Andy Murray coughed and spluttered to a 6-4, 7-5 reverse at the hands of David Ferrer, the world number five, in his first round robin clash at the ATP World Finals.
Playing in London, with the O2 Arena crowd behind him, Murray failed to build on three breaks and was hampered by problems with his left thigh.
In the early blows Murray acted as a human wall to Ferrer’s deep hitting, which seemingly killed his rival’s spirit. Uncharacteristically, the Spaniard misjudged a flat forehand and in the process handed Murray the first break and a 2-1 advantage.
But sadly enough for the home crowd, Murray let his momentum slip through his fingers soon after. A dismal error gifted Ferrer a break back. Thereon in, both men relaxed with Murray in particular enjoying success out wide with crosscourt winners.
With Murray serving to stay in it at 5-4 down, Ferrer suddenly upped his game. His tight angles and powerful forehands pulled Murray into unnatural court positions and a deep effort staggered the Scot, who looped a forehand well wide to give Ferrer the opener in the most charitable fashion. Alarm bells rung moments later as Murray received brief treatment on his left thigh and hip. Read more (283 words)
Not to be outdone after the restart, the world number three grabbed the initiative early and goaded Ferrer to advance forwards. But the Spaniard appeared out of sorts, handing Murray a break when he dumped an easy forehand into the net from close range.
Here the O2 crowd saw a more imaginative Murray experimenting with spin. Ferrer couldn’t cope this elaborate repertoire. The Dunblane native strode to a 2-0 lead after winning a battle of slices.
However, it wasn’t going to be easy, as a string of Murray errors gave Ferrer a break back. He obliged and blew Murray apart with booming serves to level the score at 2-2.
But Ferrer has always been uncomfortable when it comes to stepping on the gas during rallies and finally, Murray began to dictate and hit deeper, standing further inside the baseline. His aggression paid off as a Ferrer's demoralising miss gave Murray another break and a 4-3 lead.
Yet it seemed whenever Murray went ahead, the cobwebs began to appear. A torrid service game followed – a double fault gave Ferrer the game and brought the score back to 4-4.
Moments later at 5-5, a buoyed Ferrer narrowly missed a forehand up the line with Murray in choppy waters at 30-40. A few well needed precise, dynamic serves meant Murray escaped with his tail between his legs.
Ferrer came into his own towards the end of the match, looking comfortable on the way in, and coping better with the O2 court’s bounces. He played the more creative tennis and, typically enough, sealed his victory with a well weighted volley and a surgical crosscourt backhand.
This was a languid performance from Murray, whose lack of freedom in movement posed a huge dilemma, as well as the disturbingly frequent mistakes. He will hope for better next Wednesday, when he will play his next round robin encounter against Novak Djokovic.