Andy Murray bullied by Andrey Rublev as another top-five player brushes Scot aside


Andy Murray held his own in a high-quality first set – but things quickly unravelled

Andy Murray held his own in a high-quality first set – but things quickly unravelled – AP

Andy Murray did his utmost to frustrate Andrey Rublev – the Russian hothead who was defaulted from last week’s Dubai Championships – but missed his big chance to snatch the first set and fell away quickly in the end.

On paper, Murray’s 7-6, 6-1 loss looks like a towelling, but he held three set points at 5-4 in the opener. His level, against the world No 5, was extremely competitive for the first hour, so that each man went into the tie-break with 40 points to their name.

The match had drawn a near-capacity crowd to the main stadium in Indian Wells, which seats 16,000 people, and they were relishing the quality of that first set.

Murray thought he saw an opening when he held 0-40 on the Rublev serve in the tenth game. But he couldn’t close the deal, thanks partly to a booming Rublev forehand that dipped just in time to catch the final millimetre of the baseline.

Murray's famous defensive tenacity is no longer enough against the best players on the tourMurray's famous defensive tenacity is no longer enough against the best players on the tour

Murray’s famous defensive tenacity is no longer enough against the best players on the tour – AP

That was Murray’s chance to test his opponent’s temperament. Rublev had lost his composure dramatically in Dubai, being disqualified from the tournament when he screamed in a line-judge’s face. But he has promised to learn from that mistake, and he kept his cool superbly here.

Once the pressure had dropped slightly, Rublev began to direct traffic with his mighty forehand. He hit no fewer than 28 winners off that wing in the match, whereas Murray struck only two off his own forehand side.

Here is Murray’s problem at this late stage of his career. He is simply being bullied by the best players. Wednesday’s match had offered a rare respite because David Goffin is another veteran – and an unusually small one – who doesn’t pack a huge punch.

But Rublev is the opposite. One of the most aggressive ball-strikers on the tour, he clocked 95mph with one ferocious return of serve.

“The game has changed a little bit in he last five or six years, with the way guys are hitting the ball now,” Murray told the Tennis Channel this week. “A lot of guys are really unloading. It wasn’t like that when I started. I’m trying to find different ways to make it difficult for them to do that.

“I don’t want to hit the ball as hard as them or go toe-to-toe with them. I need to use my variety, use the slice and touch and the height to get the ball out of their comfort zone.”

Rublev's powerful stroke-play proved difficult for the Scot to live withRublev's powerful stroke-play proved difficult for the Scot to live with

Rublev’s powerful stroke-play proved difficult for the Scot to live with – AP

Admittedly, this matador-style approach had worked against the similarly uninhibited strokeplay of Denis Shapovalov in Dubai – but Shapovalov helped bring about his own downfall by racking up 60 unforced errors. Rublev was much more reliable, keeping that tally down to 25, and Murray eventually cracked. His serve, which had held up brilliantly in the first set, started coughing up double-faults as the match slid away from him quickly.

Like many of the other early departees from Indian Wells, Murray is expected to move on to the 175-point “super-Challenger” in Phoenix, which functions as a sort of plate competition, before re-entering the top-dollar events in Miami in around ten days’ time.

He has already said that he is unlikely to play these big American tournaments again, as he expects to retire at some stage in the summer.

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