The mercury in Miami touched 30°C, but Murray's underused game looked undercooked today against Novak Djokovic. The Scot went down 6-1 7-6 in a patchy display against a relentless world number one.
Tennis observers talk endlessly about match sharpness. And, with Murray gatecrashing the Sony Ericsson Open on the back of a bye and two walkovers, rarely has it been demonstrated so starkly.
In a match of two halves played in dripping humidity, the two old friends opened proceedings with a heavy dose of respectful probing. Every cross-court drive from Murray was answered with a down-the-line Exocet from the Serb; drop shots were measured rather than inspired.
It was an opening that reflected the men's careers, which once ran along parallel lines. Then, in game four, Djokovic broke free from his moorings, just as he had done last year, leaving Murray to run himself ragged on the baseline and wonder why he didn't ditch the gluten a year earlier.Read more (301 words)
But it was Murray who first upped the ante, ramping up some explosive, net-strafing groundshots at 1-2. The effect was to tug the tiger's tail, with Djokovic roaring back with incredible footspeed and pounding backcourt play to take the first break.
From there, the Serb put pedal to metal, looking by far the more solid and taking around half the time of the British number one over his service games.
The human backboard wrapped up the first set in short time, resembling every inch the battle-hardened warrior from the Crandon Park frontline. Despite extended practice time, Murray was merely the bleary-eyed Virtua Tennis 3 refugee from the players' lounge.
As the first set drew to its inevitable conclusion, it seemed that the Scot's body was on duty, whilst his mind was hunting designer gear down at the Bel Harbour Mall.
Having used set one to get his game into shape, with the usual suspects – body language, second serve and forehand – missing in action, Murray perked up for set two.
On display were more creativity, a welter of wide forehand drives, resolute defence and a heavier serve from the world number four. This bout of creativity wrought deadlock from the two men, who propelled themselves through pulsating exchanges to the fulcrum of a tiebreak.
But from here, Murray was always in catch-up mode, having opened with consecutive backhands into the net. Djokovic was merciless with his width, depth and power and, while the Scot clawed back two points from 5-2, the strength of the Serb's serving saw him through.
Despite reports to the contrary, Murray must hope for a packed schedule as the tour moves onto the clay. Meanwhile, Djokovic simply remains the master, with his peers hunting down slingshots hurled pitilessly at a baseline that recedes further with each passing event.