Andy Murray went out in the second round of the Rome Masters here yesterday, beaten 6-2, 7-6 by Stanislas Wawrinka, but at least the British No 1 was in good company. Among the other losers was the king of clay himself, Rafael Nadal, who suffered only his second defeat in his last 105 matches on his favourite surface.
Murray gave a typically up-and-down performance. The Scot hit some delightfully inventive shots, took early command of the second set with some welcome aggression and played with gritty determination in the face of defeat, saving five match points.
On too many occasions, however, he allowed Wawrinka to take the initiative. The 23-year-old Swiss is an uncomplicated player who does not need a second invitation to whack the ball as hard as he can and was always ready to punish anything short.
Murray's laid-back body language and regular grimaces are such that it can be impossible to gauge his physical state, but there were times when he appeared to be suffering with leg problems. He had treatment from a trainer at the end of the first set and also saw the doctor, who gave him a vitamin tablet. "My legs were a bit heavy but after that it was fine," Murray insisted afterwards.
Wawrinka made the first break to lead 3-1, punishing a poor Murray drop shot, and broke to love at 5-2 to take the set as the Scot hit two ragged forehands and a double-fault. Murray, nevertheless, started the second set in an admirably positive frame of mind, broke serve immediately and took a 4-2 lead. Wawrinka broke back after Murray failed with another attempted drop shot and led 5-4, only for the Scot to fight back from 0-40 to hold his serve.
Murray recovered from 3-1 down in the tie-break to lead 4-3 but then made two horrible errors to put Wawrinka back in command. A big forehand winner saved the fifth match point, but at 6-5 Murray put a forehand out.
"At the start and end of the second set I felt like I was dictating a lot of points, coming forward a bit and mixing the pace up well," Murray said. "I've just got to try to play a bit more consistently. I feel like I'm starting to play a bit better. I need to play more matches, get physically stronger and get some confidence on the surface."
Too many matches has been Nadal's problem. The world No 2 has been complaining for weeks that the European schedule is too demanding. He began the clay-court season by winning titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona for the fourth year in succession but his attempt to do the same here ended when he was beaten by his fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero. Nadal said he had been unable to walk on Monday morning because of a problem with his right foot after his victory the previous day in Barcelona. Still in pain, he was unable to run properly as Ferrero won 7-5, 6-1. Ferrero will face Wawrinka in the next round.