Murray's mistakes force quick exit
With varying degrees of confidence, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic reached the quarter finals of the Rolex ATP Masters here but world No. 2 Andy Murray suffered a stunning set back, losing 6-1, 6-2 to Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka in just 58 minutes.
Murray, who will drop back to No. 3 on Monday as a result of this loss, usually takes time to adjust to clay and has, in fact, been beaten by the same score here before; going down to Philipp Kohlschreiber in 2010.
But the Scot, who won the ATP Masters 1000 title in Miami two weeks ago, is a stronger player now and the severity of this defeat is as shocking as it was unexpected.
"I just looked at the stats," said Murray who came straight from the court to his press conference. "Twenty-four unforced errors is far too many. That's a set's worth. That's where half the points went. He served well. I started hitting the ball shorter and he was able to dictate all of the points from there."
Murray just got worse as the match went on and his body language suggested he didn't have a clue what to do about it. Wawrinka, whose single-handed backhand is one of the best in the game, has lived in Roger Federer's shadow as Switzerland's No. 2 and has yet to do real justice to his considerable talents. But this constituted one of his finest wins.
He will now play Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who is a frequent practice partner as they live close to each other in Switzerland. Earlier, Tsonga had overwhelmed Austria's Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-0.
Nadal looked like the man who has won eight straight titles here as he defeated Kohlschreiber 6-2, 6-4. He is obviously delighted to be back on clay and, in his slowly improving English, the Spaniard was happy to try and give an expert's view of what is required to make the transition from hard courts.
"You need to play a ball higher than when you play on other surfaces," he said. "Then, first, you have to find the ball, not to have winners, but one that does not to let the opponent attack you, no? When that happens you are able to play with good intensity and then you can try to go inside (the court) and go for winners. You also need to change directions and have good movement. If your movements are not good, you cannot hit with confidence."
And what is the best thing for Nadal about clay? "I think it is a surface that gives you chances; that gives you lots of options. You can play defending and counterattacking. I think it is a surface that gives you time to think and time to prepare."
Trying to give Rafa less time to think is what opponents try to do – and, on clay, they almost always fail.
Djokovic ended up a comfortable winner 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 against Juan Monaco, the Argentine who has been struggling for form for most of the year. But it was clear his damaged ankle was not very comfortable for long periods of the match.
Djokovic went into a long discussion with the trainer and the tournament doctor at the end of the first set and, for a couple of minutes, it seemed as if he might not continue. But, once again, it proved to be a false alarm.
"It was quite a similar feeling to the one yesterday," said the world No. 1 who had gone over on the same ankle in his first match. "Obviously I'm not physically feeling my best. But I'm trying. I'm fighting. After I lost the first set today I tried to find that inner strength. I found it again."
Djokovic said he got some painkillers; asked a few questions of the medical team and decided to continue. By the end he was hitting the ball with his customary pace and accuracy.
It was not a good day for highly seeded players. In the morning, No. 4 seed Tomas Berdych was beaten by the clever Fabio Fognini, who delighted his numerous Italian supporters with a surprisingly easy 6-4, 6-2 win.
Then, as the sun started to set over the Mediterranean, which lies just a few meters from the courts of this spectacular club, No. 5 seed Juan Martin Del Potro was beaten by the Finnish veteran Jaarko Niemien 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (4). Del Potro raised questions about the rules when he decided to walk off at 4-5 down in the tiebreak and call for the trainer. After about a minute, the Argentine realized the trainer would take some time to get there and went back on court.
"It was strange," said Djokovic who has served on the Players Council. "You can ask for medical assistance at a changeover but I have never seen anyone do it at 4-5 in a tiebreak before. It needs to be looked into."