Andy Murray leaves Paris several days earlier than he wanted to after one of the two heaviest defeats of his grand slam career, but he says he is determined to continue a comeback that so far has only really flickered into life.
Stan Wawrinka, who, like Murray, owns three grand slam titles and has suffered serial injuries, took an hour and 37 minutes to beat his friend and rival, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2, in a near-empty Court Philippe Chatrier in a cold and eerily quiet opening to the 2020 French Open.
It was a defeat as bad in terms of games won as the one Rafael Nadal inflicted on Murray in the 2014 semi-final – and nearly three hours shorter than the last time Murray and Wawrinka met, in the 2017 semi-final, a gruelling experience that left the Swiss shredded for the final against Nadal. Murray needed two operations on his hip, Wawrinka two on his knee.
“I’ll keep going,” Murray said, revealing he will play at Cologne next and then prepare for the Australian Open in January. “Let’s see what the next few months hold. I reckon I won’t play a match like that between now and the end of the year.”
At 33 the former world No1 says he is reluctant “and probably unable” to abandon the grinding baseline style that won him three majors and two Olympic gold medals, but he confessed this was a chastening experience.
In a candid dissection of his performance, Murray said: “I didn’t play well. I served under 40% first serves in the court. That’s just not good enough against anyone – especially someone as good as Stan. You won’t see many players serve under 40% the rest of the tournament.”
Speaking about his win at courtside, Wawrinka said: “A bit simpler than I expected. The operations he had, they made a difference. I have a lot of respect for Andy. I had operations too. OK, it is not a full crowd today, but I hope the fans enjoyed the game, even in the cold conditions.”
On his return to the Tour, Murray scored an excellent win against Alexander Zverev at the relocated Cincinnati Open that raised hopes he might rediscover some of his old magic.
The player was more realistic than some of the well-wishers. He did well enough at the US Open, he said, yet realised that drawing the world No 16 at Roland Garros was a significant challenge.
The reality was chilling. Wawrinka won five games in a row to rush through the first set, hitting through the stodgy clay as if it were butter. The new and heavy Wilson ball went like a bullet off his racket, while Murray failed to find any rhythm. The second passed almost as quickly as the first and, after brief resistance in the third, Murray all but capitulated in a grim finish.
He did not seem engaged and admitted: “In the States, I was getting quite frustrated in my matches. It was something that was brought up to me, and I tried to keep my emotions in check on the court. I don’t know whether that affected me in any way or not, but that was probably why I was quieter than usual. I was trying to be a little bit calmer on the court.”
He added: “Today was obviously an extremely tough draw. Even if I played very well, it would have been no guarantee that I would win that match.”
It will not get easier, as Murray is ranked 111 in the world and the chances are he will often come up against strong, seeded players early in the draw of big tournaments. But he sounded upbeat.
“I’m going to try to play as much as I can between now and the end of the year. The plan is to play in Cologne, the two tournaments there, which start the Monday after the French Open finishes.
“We don’t know exactly what the rules are going to be for Australia, but it’s looking like we’ll have to get there very early to prepare for that.
“My understanding is they are looking to put an ATP event on in Australia at the beginning of the year. I’d like to play in the ATP Cup. I was supposed to last year, and it looked like a great event.”
It’s heartening to hear a great champion talk so positively, and sobering for Murray to realise he cannot easily change the way he plays. He does not sound as if he wants to, anyway.
“When I play my best tennis – or when I played my best tennis – I know what that looks like,” he said. “It’s not going around blasting balls and serving and volleying. That isn’t how I play the game.
“If I do, let’s say, start serve-volleying and returning and coming into the net and things like that, it has to be successful.”
Mats Wilander, a Murray admirer who won seven slams and made two ill-advised comebacks, was tough on him on Eurosport afterwards. “I worry about Andy Murray,” he said. “I would love to hear him say why he is out there, giving us a false sense of hope that he is going to come back one day. Is it his right to be out there doing that? Why?
“I did it and I shouldn’t have. It was the biggest mistake I [made] in my career. Andy needs to stop thinking of himself and start thinking about who he was. Does he have a right to be out there taking wildcards from the young players?
“I was 26 when I first retired, came back at 28, played until 32 and there were a couple of years I played and should not have taken up the space where there were younger, more motivated players who were better than what I was.”
He added: “It’s tough to quit, for sure. By giving us all hope by playing, it’s just not right. I love the fact that he is back and trying. Hopefully he’ll figure out why he’s doing it.”