Drama and Andy Murray go together like Monaco and money and the manner of his first-round defeat in the Monte Carlo Masters here yesterday was true to form. Murray was beaten 4-6, 7-6, 7-5 by Jean-René Lisnard, the world No 154, after cramp left the British No 1 barely able to move.
The 18-year-old Scot has brushed aside past suggestions that his fitness is a problem, but this experience, in a match that lasted more than three hours, was an uncomfortable echo of incidents last year.
Serving at 5-5 and 15-15 in the final set, Murray was left clutching his right calf after failing to chase down a drop shot. He stood on his left leg and flexed his right as he tried to coax cramp out of the muscle. He even appeared to call out for advice from his physical trainer, Jean-Pierre Bruyère, but was given a time violation warning for taking too long between points.
When he did play Murray could hardly stand on his right leg, let alone run on it, though he managed to win one point before losing the game. The Scot, who had already taken a medical time-out to have his legs massaged at the end of the second set, knew the rules meant he would be unable to stop for treatment for cramp. Lisnard served out to win the match, at the end of which a frustrated Murray, who had also been holding his left thigh, hurled his racket across court.
Remarkably, Murray chose not to withdraw from his subsequent doubles match with Tim Henman and reappeared 90 minutes later to play Tomas Berdych and Jarkko Nieminen. Even more improbably, this match ended after only five games when Berdych, not Murray, retired with a stomach injury.
Yesterday's events were another twist on what has become a roller-coaster ride for Murray. He won his first ATP title in San Jose in February but has subsequently lost four of his last five matches, was prevented by illness from playing singles in the Davis Cup and split from Mark Petchey, his coach. Supporting Murray from the stands yesterday were Patricio Apey, his agent, Kim Sears, his girlfriend, and Bruyère.
While he was clearly short of full fitness and had not played singles for nearly a month, Murray's failure to last the distance is a concern. Cramp was a key factor in defeats last summer to David Nalbandian at Wimbledon and Thomas Johansson at Queen's.
Murray put yesterday's problems down to being unable to practise properly in recent weeks. "I wasn't expecting to play great and feel great," he said. "My legs were a little bit tight towards the end of the second set but I wasn't cramping. I couldn't push up on my serve but I was still moving OK."
He added: "I don't understand why I get cramp because I don't feel tired. But when your legs cramp you just can't do anything."
Lisnard had played only twice on the main tour this year, losing on both occasions. Murray generally had the better of their baseline rallies, but most of his drop shots failed and Lisnard, a gritty competitor, punished anything short.
There are now no representatives left from Britain, the United States (who did not have any players here anyway) or Russia. Marat Safin and Nikolai Davydenko, beaten by Paul-Henri Mathieu and Robin Soderling respectively, were the most notable of five Russian losers yesterday.
Monaco has two players left. Benjamin Balleret, the world No 351, beat Belgium's Christophe Rochus, the No 44, to join Lisnard in the second round. Lisnard now plays Rafael Nadal, the defending champion, who won his 37th match in a row on clay when he beat Arnaud Clement.