28 September 2020 02:31
"It's going to be difficult for me to play the same level as I did before. But, yeah, I'll keep going. 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." From the minute that the draw came out, one feared that Wawrinka's barrel-chested power might roll over Murray's counter-punching game. At this wintry French Open, it takes raw strength to generate pace.
And Wawrinka, who is built like a cruiserweight, is one of the most muscular men on tour. He has also been practising on clay since the end of lockdown, having opted not to travel to New York along with the majority. On the evidence we saw on Sunday, this could well pay off over the next fortnight – perhaps with a repeat of last year's run to the semi-finals. Murray, however, was so unrecognisable from his old self that it was hard to judge Wawrinka's true level. The sweet timing that used to make Murray such an artistic player was completely lacking. Time and again, his forehands skewed off at a wild angle, sometimes barely even making it to the net. It was too early, Murray said, for him to have any firm conclusions about the roots of his underperformance. But he rejected the idea that he needs to fundamentally reshape his game. Many pundits have argued that he should become an out-and-out aggressor, in order to reduce the workload on his metal hip. But he knows that his most successful moments – even since the operation – have come when he pressurises his opponent rather than trying to blitz them. "When I play my best tennis, I know what that looks like," Murray said. "It's not going around blasting balls and serving and volleying and stuff. I am an offensive baseliner. "If you look at Antwerp" – where he beat Wawrinka in the final last October to lift his 46th ATP title – "I was hitting my backhand 4-5mph faster there than I was on the Asia trip [shortly beforehand]. I didn't change the way I was playing. I just took my backhand on a little bit more. And it was successful." Murray is not done for the year. He still plans to play a couple more events in Cologne, on indoor hard courts. They will offer a chance to wash this bitter taste away.