'Does Andy Murray have a right to be out there taking wild cards from the young players?'


After a miserable day of perpetual twilight in Paris, Andy Murray was forced to deny that the sun is setting on his own magnificent career. An inquest was inevitable after his 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Stan Wawrinka, a result that equalled his heaviest-ever loss at a major.

Mats Wilander, the seven-time slam champion and Eurosport pundit, put the case for the prosecution most strongly. After what was an uncomfortably one-sided affair on Court Philippe Chatrier, Wilander asked why Murray is still trying to recapture former glories - and even went on to accuse him of the tennis equivalent of bed-blocking.

"I worry about Andy Murray," said Wilander. "I would love to hear him say why he is out there, giving us a false sense of hope that he going to come back one day. I keep getting a little bit disappointed. Does he have a right to be out there taking wild cards from the young players?"

"I was 26 when I first retired, I came back at 28, played until 32, and there was couple of years I played and should not have taken up the space where there were younger, more motivated players who were better than I was. It's tough to quit, for sure. [But] by giving us all hope by playing, it's just not right."

Wilander's concern over wild cards - which provide a short-cut into tournaments for players who don't qualify directly - is surely overstated. Murray remains a recognisable name with real drawing power. At a time of economic hardship throughout the sporting world, that makes him a more valuable asset than another French 18-year-old who is unlikely to reach the top 50.

But the issue of whether this latest comeback is a mirage is becoming harder to avoid. When you place Sunday's carpeting alongside the one Murray suffered three weeks ago, against Felix Auger Aliassime in the second round of the US Open, the numbers tell their own story. He has accumulated a combined tally of 15 games in back-to-back matches at the slams.

Admittedly, Roland Garros has always been the hardest of the four major venues for Murray to adjust to - an issue that was probably exacerbated by the sluggishness of these soggy clay courts. But he refused to blame the wintry conditions after this uncharacteristic blow-out.

Instead Murray pointed to his first-serve percentage of 38, and "a bunch" of mistimed service returns. He was shaking his head in annoyance and disbelief as he brought up these details of a horribly scratchy performance. But he also emphasised that they are aberrations - pieces of his game that collapsed on the day, rather than inevitable consequences of playing best-of-five-set tennis with a metal hip.

"From a physical perspective, I wouldn't expect to be the same as before I had the operation," said Murray, who had not been informed of Wilander's broadside at the time of his videoconference. "But in terms of ball-striking and my strokes and stuff, there is no reason that I shouldn't be able to do that from a technical perspective.

"It's going to be difficult for me to play the same level as I did before. But, yeah, I'll keep going. Let's see what the next few months hold. I reckon I won't play a match like that between now and the end of the year."

From the minute that the draw came out, one feared that Wawrinka's barrel-chested power might roll over Murray's counter-punching game. At this wintry French Open, it takes raw strength to generate pace. And Wawrinka, who is built like a cruiserweight, is one of the most muscular men on tour.

He has also been practising on clay since the end of lockdown, having opted not to travel to New York along with the majority. On the evidence we saw on Sunday, this could well pay off over the next fortnight - perhaps with a repeat of last year's run to the semi-finals.

Murray, however, was so unrecognisable from his old self that it was hard to judge Wawrinka's true level. The sweet timing that used to make Murray such an artistic player was completely lacking. Time and again, his forehands skewed off at a wild angle, sometimes barely even making it to the net.

It was too early, Murray said, for him to have any firm conclusions about the roots of his underperformance. But he rejected the idea that he needs to fundamentally reshape his game. Many pundits have argued that he should become an out-and-out aggressor, in order to reduce the workload on his metal hip. But he knows that his most successful moments - even since the operation - have come when he pressurises his opponent rather than trying to blitz them.

"When I play my best tennis, I know what that looks like," Murray said. "It's not going around blasting balls and serving and volleying and stuff. I am an offensive baseliner.

"If you look at Antwerp" - where he beat Wawrinka in the final last October to lift his 46th ATP title - "I was hitting my backhand 4-5mph faster there than I was on the Asia trip [shortly beforehand]. I didn't change the way I was playing. I just took my backhand on a little bit more. And it was successful."

Murray is not done for the year. He still plans to play a couple more events in Cologne, on indoor hard courts. They will offer a chance to wash this bitter taste away.


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