Murray's red mist
British No 1 seeks winning formula as clay-court woes continue
By Razwan Mirza - Tweet me: @RazMirza. Last Updated: 21/08/13 10:16pm
Some things just don't mix - like oil and water, glass houses and stones, cats and rain - and then there's Andy Murray and clay.
After just three weeks as world No 2 the Scot has dropped behind Roger Federer in the rankings after a third round exit in Monte Carlo.
Murray's coach Ivan Lendl now has the challenge of picking up his pupil and finding a winning formula on the dirt ahead of the French Open.
It's not as if the US Open champion is a stranger to the clay surface. He moved to Barcelona in his formative years where he studied at the Schiller International School and trained on the courts of the Sanchez-Casal Academy.
Murray slumps to shock defeat
Although it was a huge sacrifice to be away from his family, Murray made huge progression as a person and as a player during his time in Catalunya.
However, in the subsequent years that followed, although there was a vast improvement to his game on other surfaces - most notably on hard courts - he found it difficult to adjust his style of play to the clay, and his record proves it.
The Briton has never contested an ATP Tour final on the slowest surface and, in all, he has reached 40 finals since 2006. Rather unsurprisingly, he holds a higher losing percentage on the clay courts compared to all other surfaces he has played on.
And of his 26 career titles won, none have come on clay with 22 of those victories coming on the faster hard courts where he seems most at home.
Murray doesn't have too much time to think about his shot making on the hard courts, therefore his reaction times are quicker and that's where his speed and agility of his all-court game comes to the fore.
The 25-year-old's game is built on pace, endurance and strength and over the past nine months he has combined those three factors to create a winning formula.
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He has played in finals at three of the four grand slams, but has not been beyond the semi-finals at Roland Garros having lost to seven-time champion Rafael Nadal in the last four stage in 2011.
Murray conceded that his results on the surface have been disappointing in comparison to his hard and grass court prowess.
But the Dunblane ace gave the impression that he has never been better prepared for a surface he has not always prospered on heading into this year's Monte Carlo Masters and even spent time practising on clay in the USA before heading back to Europe.
"The movement has been the thing that I needed to improve on clay and I feel like I'm moving better this year," said Murray.
He was seeded above Rafa Nadal heading to Monte Carlo, despite the Spaniard going for a ninth successive title.
There didn't seem to be much of a problem with his movement as he disposed of Eduoard Roger-Vasselin in just 72 minutes in his first match on the surface - but then he wasn't truly tested.
The omens heading into his third round clash against Stanislas Wawrinka were not good, although the Swiss No 2 had lost ten of his last 12 matches against top-ten players on the dirt.
Murray's record against the 28-year-old was 8-3 in his favour, but the world No 17 had beaten Murray on clay before in the Rome Masters Series and came into the match having played 11 matches on the surface compared to Murray's one.
What followed was a complete unravelling of the Scot who could offer no explanation for his 24 unforced errors in a 6-1 6-2 demolition job - a scoreline which nobody expected.
‘Irritated’ Murray bows out
Murray acknowledged he normally needs time to settle into the clay court season, although the manner of his defeat left him extremely disappointed.
He has now played six matches in Monte Carlo against top-20 players, and won once, against Nikolay Davydenko in 2009.
The Olympic champion will hope to make a major improvement to his game for his next outing in Madrid in two weeks, indicating that he would miss the next tournament in Barcelona and remain in Monte Carlo for extra training.
It seems the slow, high-bouncing clay courts of Europe are just not cut out for Murray's game, but where there's a Lendl there's a way.
The former world No 1 is a three-time winner of the French Open and since he started coaching Murray in December 2011, he and his team of assistants have metamorphosed the player from the skinny, awkward figure into a Scottish Trojan, culminating in his success at Flushing Meadows.
The Czech coach's stony visage has improved the Scotsman's maturity and consistency.
And despite suffering his heaviest defeat for three years against Wawrinka on his most challenging surface he will want Murray - who is notoriously a slow starter - to show more aggression and bring his 'A' game to Madrid next month.