Andy Murray played yet another epic this week in the Paris Masters.
It was yet another near miss as unseeded Dominik Koepfer emerged victorious in a thrilling third set tiebreaker. On his way to a defeat in over three hours, Murray squandered no less than seven match points before Koepfer took his first to progress to the last 32 of the final masters 1000 event of the year.
Yet as one fan aptly put it midway through the third set, the outcome was in some ways academic for the bigger picture.
Gone are the days when fans were satisfied simply seeing the former British and world number one back on court following the implementation of a metal hip last year. The initial novelty of witnessing Murray and all of his fighting qualities back on a tennis court was soon replaced by fans pulling their hair out at him getting caught up in needlessly tough contests in almost every tournament he enters.
His three hour 45 minute victory against America’s Francis Tiafoe three weeks ago in Antwerp brought exhilaration at first, but the harsh reality of the situation was soon apparent as Diego Shwarsman was the beneficiary of a battle-worn Murray in the next round beating him in straight sets.
This was the latest in what is becoming a hugely frustrating pattern for Murray. Countless tournaments which he has entered have resulted in him losing after being on the brink of victory, or otherwise coming up short after being tired from the ordeal of the previous round. Playing unnecessarily close matches in some ways epitomises Murray as he has been providing this throughout his illustrious career.
However, in his current state it is imperative that he gets a few comfortable victories under his belt in order to boost his ranking which has been significantly damaged due to his lay off.
Admittedly, Murray hasn’t been helped by his draw in many of the tournaments he has entered into. Given his ranking at the moment, Murray has had to receive wildcards for the majority of events that he has participated in since his return to the tour. As such, his opponents in first rounds of tournaments have been of a far higher level in quality than what he would have been accustomed to when he was at the top of his sport.
Murray is experiencing a frustrating cycle in which he, by his own admission, needs to get out of. Only once he goes deep in tournaments will his ranking improve to the point that his draw will become kinder, so it’s important that he can convert some of the close defeats into wins.
However, it has been far from all doom and gloom for Murray. Despite his insistence to the contrary, many of even his most devout fans had accepted that he would not be competing at the highest level.
A player returning to the sport following a hip replacement has never been achieved so what Murray has managed has been nothing short of miraculous. The aforementioned triumph over Tiafoe was preceded by a thrilling victory over upcoming star Carlos Alcaraz in Indian Wells. Both Tiafoe and Alcaraz had superb weeks after losing to Murray which further enhanced the magnitude of the respective results.
He also pushed world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets at Wimbledon in a match he went two sets to one up in before Tsitsipas fought back to eventually clinch the decider.
As such, it’s important to have some perspective when critiquing a man who has defied all expectation by doing what he is doing at the moment. If anything, the increase in expectations of him is testament to how he has caused so much surprise as a result of his exploits following his come back to the tour.