Ryan Harrison was not the only one left feeling cheated. From the minute the draw for the BNP Paribas Open was made, the American teenager was working himself into a lather at the prospect of playing Andy Murray, who had ground him down in the opening round of the Australian Open in January. Guillermo García-López got there first.
In the crushing aftermath of a defeat totally unexpected after Murray’s win over Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, in Dubai the week before last, there was much gallows humour in the press room and a look of the condemned man on Murray’s face. Could this really be the Murray who on the day before the championships said he had never hit the ball better?
The British No 1 was beaten 6-4, 6-2 by García-López. If it was true that the Spaniard, once a top-30 player and now in the nineties because he has been injured so much in the past year, played cutting-edge tennis, this was another of those “did that really happen?” moments with which Murray watchers are terribly familiar.
It was made worse, of course, because of his profoundly upbeat nature in the days preceding the event. After practice against the Tomas Berdych on Thursday, he announced himself in the best of shape in every way, mentally, physically and with the structure of his ball-striking and technique. He had, indeed, looked frighteningly good. The following day, on the back courts against Kei Nishikori for another practice set, he was a long way second best and was seen grinding the rim of his racket into the court surface.
We thought — he thought — he had got losses such as this out of his system at this stage in 2011 when he was beaten in this first of nine Masters 1000 events by Donald Young, an American qualifier.
The same thing happened in the second event in Miami and thus, a year on, that he had no ranking points to defend meant these two tournaments were potentially rich harvests.
Yes, the courts here are profoundly slower than Dubai, the balls fluff up at night and thus it is more difficult to penetrate a player’s defences, but Murray was simply no match for García-López. The Spaniard played quite beautifully, his flowing single-handed backhand working in harmony with a forehand that did not err. But even he may have wondered how Murray twice allowed him to wriggle off the hook when love-40 to the good on the García-López serve.
That is when the best turn the screw; scent the opponent’s anxiety and go in for the kill. That is what Murray usually does. Here, though, he was incredibly tense and barely made the net with a couple of backhand returns. All night, his backhand was way off. Nothing was coming naturally to this most natural of players.
Lucky, in one sense, for Ivan Lendl that he had decided to miss this championship otherwise he would have been vigorously pursued to ask what went wrong with his charge. Murray had to face the music on his own and seemed as much at a loss for words as he had been at a loss on the court.
“Last year, it was easier for me to look at it and know what happened, but I’ve had losses before and I’ve come back better,” he said, knowing that at the next event, Lendl will be on the practice court, demanding more.
It was not a tournament which provided any encouragement for the British game, which we keep hearing is on the up. Laura Robson and Heather Watson did not muster a set in qualifying, neither did James Ward; in the event proper, Elena Baltacha managed to win a round, Anne Keothavong was beaten in a match she ought to have won and now Murray has departed, from the singles at least. That is six competitors, three sets, one victory and nobody left.
Fortunately, Philip Brook, the chairman of the All England Club, and Tim Henman, who popped into the event to schmooze a few days ago and then played a couple of rounds of golf together, had left the area before it all got rather messy on Saturday night.
They might have found sitting in the stands a very uncomfortable experience