Andy Murray was bashed out of the Indian Wells BNP Paribas Masters last night as a ruthless Juan Martin del Potro took no quarter. After two-and-a-half hours of relentless ball-crushing in the 35-degree Californian heat, the Argentinian prevailed 6-7 6-3 6-1.
In the four years since the pair last met, the Scot has evolved an aggressive game style under Ivan Lendl, but that was never going to get the job done against the ultimate ball-basher.
Perhaps Murray forgot what modus operandi
he used to establish a 5-1 winning head-to-head against del Potro. Or perhaps the Argentinian, a staunch Catholic, was simply running on Pope Power, following the election of his countryman to the Papacy this week.
Divine intervention, though, was in short supply for del Potro in the opening set, as Murray was able to wallop his way to a tiebreak. Perhaps the Argentinian was taken aback by the Scot’s surprise game plan. Leading 4-2 in the breaker, Murray got the better of a brutal 43-shot exchange to wrest control of the tiebreak and first set.Read more (390 words)
But the world number three couldn’t keep it up. At the start of the second set, Murray took a toilet break, during which his mind told him it would be taking a little holiday – possibly the Seychelles. Murray’s brain was as good as its word and the Scot floated a few loose groundshots into the tramlines and drifted quickly to 0-3.
From there, the gangly Argentinian put pedal to metal as he levelled a match in which Murray would record a whopping 49 unforced errors to del Potro’s 27. In particular, the Argentinian’s serve, once considered a relative liability for such a beanpole, went unbroken and unthreatened throughout.
As the deciding set opened, Murray looked more inclined than ever to thump his way out of danger. But the presence of ill-advised drop shots amid all the rampant ball-hatred surely suggested the mental vacation was far from over.
In the second game, the Scot finally earned a break point, a flickering flame that del Potro snuffed out with a crushing overhead. Murray was immediately broken in the next game and, while the Scot’s attempt to break back in the following game lasted nine minutes, he could muster only one break point. It was to be his last, as del Potro held for 3-1 and continued to pummel his way to a deserved victory.
Murray later said: “You need to play a high-quality match from start to finish and I had a bit of a letdown at the start of the second set. I haven’t played a match for six weeks before this week and he played the big points better than me. He’s won a lot of matches recently and that comes with it.
“The conditions were challenging. If I look at the bigger picture, after taking a break you don’t expect to go out and win every match straightaway. He played a very good match and there were a few things tactically I would have liked to have done better. I could have served and returned better.”
Murray now heads to Miami, with the consolation that he has at least narrowed the gap on Federer’s number two spot. Del Potro, meanwhile, will be nervously fingering his rosary beads as he contemplates a semi-final against Novak Djokovic, a man once again trying to prove that he’s nature’s attempt at a tennis machine.