For the last few weeks we’ve been hearing a lot about Andy Murray’s clay-court game. He claimed he had a chance at the French Open title. He said he was going to make a bigger push on the surface this year. He brought coach Ivan Lendl with him to Monte Carlo to train for the first time.
But before Murray does anything significant on dirt, he’s probably going to have to figure out how to win a set on it against Stan Wawrinka. In their two previous meetings on clay, Wawrinka had won in straight sets, and the result was no different today. Stan rolled to a stunningly easy 6-1, 6-2 upset win in 58 minutes. Murray, who has started slowly on clay in the past, also lost his No. 2 ranking to Wawrinka’s countryman, Roger Federer, in the process.
There were few, if any, signs of what was to come in the opening games. Murray, going to the drop shot right away, held and then earned two break points on Wawrinka’s serve. But Murray couldn’t convert, and by the end of the game he appeared more frustrated than you might have expected for such an early stage in a match. Perhaps Murray knew he was fighting an uphill battle against this lower-ranked opponent on this surface. Whatever the reason, he was right to worry. Muzz’s early edginess quickly became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as he was broken in the next game. By the fifth game, he was rushing from one service point to the next; by the sixth, he was hitting his returns flat-footed. Murray was ready to get to the next set.
He got his wish in a hurry, but it didn't help. Wawrinka opened the second set with a love hold in 54 seconds. Murray staved off a break point at 1-2, but he couldn’t do it at 2-3. When he pushed an easy backhand volley over the baseline to lose serve, the match was essentially over.
What does Stan have on clay that Andy doesn’t? He hits heavier, more penetrating shots in general, and he can push people around with his backhand the way Murray still struggles to do with his forehand on clay. Wawrinka finished with 23 winners against 16 errors; Murray, by horrible contrast, hit seven winners and committed 24 errors.
Murray says he’ll stay in Monte Carlo until next Friday to practice, and he can use the work. He can also use a little more belief—after losing those two early break points, he never had another, and never seemed confident in his game or what he was trying to do again.
Maybe we’ve been talking about the wrong man so far this spring. Could this, at long last, be the season of Stan? We've wondered that before, but this time he does have a new coach, in Magnus Norman, and he already has 12 matches under his belt on clay in 2013. His next one will be against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.