Tennis: Murray fails to shake post-Melbourne malaise
Something is up with Andy Murray. Having the right mental approach can often be everything in this sport and Murray has disclosed that he has not been enjoying his tennis in the two months since losing the Australian Open final to Roger Federer.
Too many negative thoughts keep popping up into his head.
Off the court, Murray has been happy since that defeat at Melbourne Park, yet on the court, he has been anxious, uneasy and unsettled, and it sounds as though even he is not sure exactly what has brought all this on.
Over the years, Murray has developed a reputation for having a smart tennis brain, and for his mental fortitude, for his bloody-minded determination to win matches and titles, yet when the defending champion lost on his opening appearance at this Sony Ericsson Open, in the second round to world No 101 Mardy Fish, it was another sign all is not right between the Briton's ears.
"It could be something off the court, or something in my game, I don't know," said Murray, after his first defeat to someone outside the top 100 for three years.
"It could be a lot of things. Everyone goes through bad patches. I have been very happy off the court, but not on it, and that's where I need to be happy, because that's my career. I need to start enjoying my tennis again, like I was at the start of the year.
During the prize-giving ceremonies in Melbourne, a pink-eyed Murray showed just how much the final and the occasion had meant to him, and came up with the funniest one-liner of his career, referring to Federer's tears the year before after his Australian Open defeat to Rafael Nadal: "I can cry like Roger, it's a pity that I can't play like him."
All three of Murray's post-Melbourne tournaments have been a disappointment.
His first event after the Australian Open was in Dubai, when he lost in the second round to Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic, and this month he lost in the quarter-finals of the Indian Wells tournament to Sweden's Robin Soderling.
Then came this defeat, a match when almost every syllable, semicolon and comma of Murray's body-language was screaming that he was not happy out there against the American.
Since Murray became a Hollywood name in men's tennis, there have not been many matches more frustrating than this one. So Murray, who will drop one place in the rankings to fourth, exchanging places with Nadal, needs to "get my head right", to work out what he can do about his "poor, unacceptable" mental approach.
Murray hopes that the European clay-court season will bring happier times. His first tournament on red dirt could be the event at the Monte Carlo Country Club, which begins in a fortnight. (© Daily Telegraph, London)