Same old, same old? Not quite. The scorecard may record a routine straight-sets defeat, sentencing Andy Murray to yet another second-round exit. But this was anything but an ordinary day.
The difference comes down to the personnel in Murray’s player box. Alongside British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith sat a familiar figure in what looked like a Crocodile Dundee hat without the corks. Yes, Ivan Lendl is back in town.
The man who has overseen all of Murray’s most successful moments, Lendl has not attended a match of Murray’s since Wimbledon in 2017. But while he will not officially resume coaching duties until after this tournament, he drove down from his home in nearby Vero Beach for a quick glance at his old charge.
Murray’s rehiring of Lendl feels like a pivotal moment in his ongoing drive to regain former glories. The two men have a lengthy training block planned in Florida over the next couple of months, with a view to getting Murray in optimal shape for the grass. Well, as optimal as it is possible to be with a metal hip.
But Saturday’s 6-4, 6-2 defeat at the hands of Daniil Medvedev was a reminder of how much work is still going to be required. On the upside, Murray hung tough in the first set and played some eye-catching stuff against a man whose spindly, long-legged court coverage feels a little reminiscent of how the young Murray himself used to play. But when things began to run away, they ran away quickly.
As he approaches his 35th birthday, Murray does not have the same explosivity or stamina as in the past. This allowed the super-consistent Medvedev to wear him down with sheer weight of shot. The match ended in a slump of five straight lost games as Murray’s earlier optimism bled out of him down the home straight.
Still, there was one obvious shift here – and that was in Murray’s demeanour. Having spent much of his matches this year in wild-haired raging, whether at himself or his own equipment, he was as quiet and studious as a head prefect. To continue the analogy, Lendl’s return evokes that lesson when the supply teacher packs up and is replaced by the ornery old fellow who keeps the class in line.
The result was hardly unexpected, given that Murray has not beaten a top-five player for six years. Neither has he faced anyone ranked as high as Medvedev (who stands at No 2, but can reclaim the No 1 spot by reaching the semi-finals here) since 2017. The end result was his sixth straight exit in the second round of a tournament. Yes, Murray is as regular as clockwork right now, but not in the way he would like.
His own assessment, when he came off the court, was that he had hit the ball nicely from the baseline. But he also admitted his first-serve percentage of 51 was far too low, and that his return had lacked penetration. “My level of tennis is obviously not where it needs to be to win matches like that,” said Murray. “I think there was some good signs on the court, but two of the key things in tennis are serve and return, and I didn’t do either of them particularly well.”
In a surprising postscript, Murray added that – after a recent few days of training with Lendl at nearby Boca Raton – he is now coming to believe that his recent training regime has been counterproductive.
Asked what he hoped to take from Lendl during their third stint of working together, Murray replied: “I think probably some clarity over the right way to play and the right way to practise. I don’t feel I’ve been practising the right things probably for 18 months or so. It’s difficult to undo that in the space of a few weeks.
“Hence one of the reasons why I’m taking a big period of training to try and change some of those things and hopefully get my game to a place where it’s more competitive against the top players again.
“I do feel like I played better here than I did in Indian Wells,” Murray added. “But it’s going to take a lot of work, because like I said, it’s been quite a while that I’ve maybe not been doing the right things on the practice court. It’s going to take quite a while to change some of those habits.”
Earlier, Heather Watson’s exit left Great Britain without a representative in the women’s event here. Johanna Konta scored the biggest title of her career in Miami in 2017, but her retirement and the recent form slump from Emma Raducanu has left Britain’s women struggling for purchase.
Watson had at least scored a morale-boosting win over Elina Svitolina, Ukraine’s best player, in the opening round before she went down to Switzerland’s Olympic champion Belinda Bencic by a 6-4, 6-1 margin. When the next set of rankings are published on Monday week, Watson’s earlier success should push her back up to the fringes of the world’s top 100 at around No 104.