Andy Murray played one of the worst shots of his entire career to hasten his defeat to Italian qualifier Andrea Vavassori in Madrid and deepen his frustration on clay.
The howler made it to 6-6 in the second set tiebreaker. It was a pivotal moment, as Murray – already a set down after a painfully slow start – had managed to rally from a 5-1 deficit in that tiebreaker. With Vavassori’s nerves on the wane, Murray was well positioned to turn the game around in his favor.
The point began with Murray firing a strong serve, after which it was followed by a penetrating backhand approach shot, and smoothly moved forward to fend off a last defensive attempt by Vavassori. As the ball slid smoothly towards him, Murray was almost on top of the net, with a variety of options at his disposal.
Somehow, though, he suffered a brain freeze that caused him to try to hit his backhand volley hard enough to set up a drop-shot winner, only to hit the ball and put it into the web of the net. Murray stood there for at least 10 seconds, hands on his knees, staring blankly at the ground as he tried to figure out what had just happened.
“Obviously everyone misses bad shots in their career, but I don’t have many like that,” said a chastened Murray, after Vavassori had hit two of his next three points to complete a 6-2, 7-6 win in 91 minutes.
“I’ve always been pretty good at cleaning up and finishing up runs, whether it’s overhead or runs on short balls and stuff like that. He wasn’t the only one [today] O. There have been a couple of pretty bad ones in the big moments.
“That’s the frustrating thing, because to get into those positions, you build the point well, play it right and then, yeah, you just butcher the simple, basic shot.
“You probably would have,” Murray concluded, nodding in the direction of Telegraph Sport. “No disrespect for your tennis skills. But I mean, it’s not a hit that the best payers should miss. Ugly miss.
Murray’s season is going poorly after a promising start, in which he wowed the Australian Open with his nightly exploits before reaching the final in Doha. This loss to Vavassori – a 27-year-old journeyman who has never beaten an opponent in the top 50 – was his fourth straight loss in a streak dating back to March 11.
Murray would like to try Roland Garros
He could now move on to one of the big new Challenger clay events scheduled for week two in Madrid, probably the one in Aix-en-Provence. Longer term, Murray’s team are still debating the benefits of playing Roland Garros – which he skipped last year to extend his grass-court training to Wimbledon – although the man himself seems keen.
“I’d like to play,” Murray said, “just because I don’t know if I’ll have another opportunity to play again. Even though I feel fit and healthy, I would give it a try.
“But, yes, I also have ambitions to compete for Wimbledon titles and that sort of thing. I know, sitting here today, it probably doesn’t sound realistic. But I think it’s a possibility. So yeah, I don’t know. It is impossible to say what is the right thing to do.”
Previously, Kyle Edmund – the former British number 1 who barely played for three years due to a knee problem – had shown occasional bright moments in the 6-4, 6-1 defeat by Dominic Thiem.
“I’m slowly getting better,” Edmund said. “I wish he could be a little faster and get some wins. But this time last year, I was basically coming off my third surgery. So it’s good to play.”