David Ferrer snapped a five-match hardcourt losing streak to Andy Murray with a straight-set victory in the Group A opener.. (Zumapress)
LONDON -- Perhaps the few thousands of people who didn't buy tickets to Monday's day session featuring homeboy Andy Murray knew something the rest of us didn't.
Murray has been in top form for the better part of two months and was playing an opponent, David Ferrer, against whom he was 5-0 on hardcourts. But the Scot put forth what was easily his worst performance since the U.S. Open (remember that Robin Haase match Murray almost lost?), falling to a focused and poised Ferrer 6-4, 7-5 in their first round-robin match at the ATP World Tour Finals.
And now Murray's status for the rest of the Tour Finals is in question because of a groin injury. The world No. 3 said he hurt himself before the tournament, limiting his training for the eight-player, season-ending event.
Early Monday, however, it seemed as if the match would go according to plan as Murray broke Ferrer in the third game. But as would be his wont for the entire match, Murray simply could not hold a lead. His erratic play allowed Ferrer to break back immediately, and that's when Murray's frustration began to bubble.
Murray ranted at himself, rambled at his box and, rather hilariously, excoriated himself after hitting a spectacular crosscourt forehand winner. His reaction was so negative that I had to stop and check to make sure the ball was called in. No one responds like that after hitting a highlight-reel winner. No one except Andy Murray.
Meanwhile, Ferrer, who has his own self-flagellating tendencies, was the picture of calm. While his opponent was busy letting the world know how frustrated he was with his serve (Murray served at a sorry 37 percent in the first set), Ferrer kept his head down and plugged away.
"I played very good," Ferrer said. "I played very consistent all the match. In the second [set], sometimes I was a little bit nervous. In the important moments, I take my chance."
The Spaniard served well and consistently got the ball deep in the rally, yanking Murray left and right. That steadiness allowed him to break Murray to take the first set. And that approach paid dividends later in the second as it became clear that Murray's movement was hampered. After dropping the first set, he called for the trainer.
The injury surely affected his movement throughout the match, as Murray looked heavy-legged and tentative in his starts and stops. But the physical problem seemed to be playing with his mind as well. Murray never appeared comfortable with his game plan and that led to some horrible decision-making. At times he was too passive, unnecessarily grinding himself down in the rallies. At other times he was overly aggressive, taking huge cuts at the ball and missing by a country mile.
By the end of the second set he was repeatedly charging the net, only to find himself a step out of position and dumping volleys into the net. Murray was mentally (and sometimes physically) stuck in no-man's land, which is a bit ironic considering this is basically his home court. It all seemed to culminate on match point when he bailed out Ferrer by hitting an inexplicable drop shot that the Spaniard easily chased down. Murray had run out of ideas and seemed to just want off.
"I felt flat, in the second set especially," Murray said. "I don't know whether how I was feeling contributed toward that."
With Ferrer's surprise win, Group A gets interesting. Much will depend on Novak Djokovic's form later today against Tomas Berdych (I'm still not convinced he's 100 percent), but with the round-robin format, Murray will likely have to run the table to qualify for the semifinals. Whether he's even able to take the court again is uncertain. Murray said he would see how he feels Tuesday before deciding whether to continue.
"If it wasn't Slams or this event, I wouldn't have played," Murray said. This post has been updated with postmatch quotes and information.