Andy Murray goes down fighting as red mist descends in Miami defeat

Andy Murray after defeat - Andy Murray goes down fighting as red mist descends in Miami Open defeat

Andy Murray seemingly let anger get the better of him in his three-set defeat to Tomas Machac – AP/Rebecca Blackwell

Andy Murray argued with the umpire and seemed to twang something in his ankle in the course of an eventful, exhausting 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 defeat at the hands of the Czech Republic’s Tomas Machac.

When you consider that this could easily be the last hard-court match of his career, all the drama felt entirely appropriate to the occasion. Talk about rolling back the years.

Murray pulled up in alarming style at the end of the 10th game of the deciding set, hopping his way to the net in a manner that suggested he had torn his Achilles’ tendon. But after a visit from the physio, he was able to continue, at first in a slightly stiff-legged manner and then with increasing fluency.

Andy Murray in painAndy Murray in pain

Murray looked to have seriously injured himself in the final set but after a break was able to continue – Getty Images/Al Bello

We thought he was going to dig himself out of a hole when he led the deciding-set tie-break by a 5-3 margin, but Machac came up with the goods. He completed the win with a scorching backhand winner up the line, and then a delicate drop-volley.

Earlier, Murray’s row with the experienced umpire Carlos Bernardes had marked the moment when a previously excellent performance fell away, allowing world No.60 Machac to begin a slow but eventually triumphant comeback from a one-set deficit.

The order of play had scheduled Murray unusually low down the pecking order, on the third-string Butch Buchholz Arena, where he became frustrated with the number of fans moving around during play.

He kept asking Bernardes to bring some order to proceedings, even though it is really the job of the stewards to keep the fans in check. Indeed, one of those stewards had inadvertently triggered the problem in the first place when he went for a wander at the exact moment when Murray was trying to return Machac’s serve.

Bernardes eventually seemed to lose patience in return, replying “What are you talking about?” to one of Murray’s objections. This didn’t go down well at all with Murray, who kept referring to it again and again. “I think you know what I’m talking about, Carlos,” he said at the next changeover.

“The guy who is moving is part of the organisation,” said Bernardes. “The public is seated.”

Machac was leading the second set 5-4 on serve when the issue boiled up. Up until that moment, Murray had served 10 aces and hadn’t given his opponent a sniff of a break in an unusually purposeful and focused performance.

But as soon as the red mist descended, he seemed to lose sight of his ball toss, suddenly mislaying that vital first serve. Machac had break chances in the 10th game of that set, and although he missed them, he finally took advantage in the 12th game, breaking and so snatching the set with an inside-out forehand winner.

Murray tried to reboot his malfunctioning mechanics in early stages of the decider, but Machac – a big hitter with a tendency to overplay – was enjoying a purple patch. He continued a run of five straight games, which all started with the umpiring debate.

This will go down as a missed opportunity, because Murray – until he lost control – had been on track to record three straight victories on the ATP Tour for the first time in over a year.

So what should we take from this defeat, which was Murray’s eighth in 13 appearances this season? There was a lot to like about his play in the first set, when everything looked to be flowing as nicely as at any point since his hip blew up in 2017.

Andy Murray fist pumpAndy Murray fist pump

Early on in the match Murray looked to be playing as well as he has in years – AP/Rebecca Blackwell

Big serves, forehand kills, that trademark backhand down the line: it was all there, without the familiar daft lapses that have crept into his game in recent months. We looked to be heading to a second-set tie-break before Murray’s patience snapped.

Instead, Murray will now have to go home and start working on his least favourite surface – red clay – ahead of a possible appearance in Monte Carlo in a couple of weeks’ time.

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