Andy Murray, playing his first match since rising to the top ranking, is upset at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship by world No 11 David Goffin, who will face Rafael Nadal in the final.
ABU DHABI // Ahead of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC), Andy Murray said he needed “to do something a little bit different this year” in his quest to end his heartbreaking record at the Australian Open.
A five-time losing finalist in the past seven years, Murray’s Melbourne misery is well-documented. However, given his remarkable end to the 2016 season that produced a 26-match winning run, five consecutive titles and a rise to world No 1, next month’s edition represents the Scot’s best chance of clinching that elusive first title.
The changes he alluded to were primarily a tweak in his schedule to include a return to MWTC having missed last year’s tournament, and his first appearance in Doha for the Qatar Open since 2014.
Well, the first part of those preparations have not entirely gone to plan. Handed a bye to the last-four at MWTC, Murray faced David Goffin in yesterday’s first semi-final in a match he was expected to win comfortably. In five previous meetings, Goffin has failed to win a solitary set against Murray, let alone trouble the Olympic champion.
Admittedly, that official record remains intact but, while gleaning any negatives from an exhibition defeat would be futile, few positives could be taken either.
At 3-3, Goffin had two break point chances, both ultimately saved by Murray, but it showed the Belgian was in the fight.
Murray lacked rhythm and had too many errors. In contrast, Goffin was a livewire, using his nimble footwork and speed to guide the ball around the court to keep Murray off balance.
Perhaps most impressively for Goffin was the effectiveness of his serve. Far from the biggest server on the tour, the world No 11 used it well to set up attacks from the baseline, while selecting the right moments to approach the net.
The resulting tie-break was a microcosm of the first set as Goffin continued to play aggressive, front-foot tennis and his ambition was rewarded when he wrapped up the opener 6-4.
Murray upped his intensity in the second set and having broken and held for a 4-2 lead, it appeared the difference in class would prove telling as the match moved toward the inevitable third set decider.
However, Murray quickly surrendered his advantage, getting broken in the following game, and after Goffin held, the world No 1 was serving to stay in the match.
Then within the space of three points, Murray went from 4015 to facing match point. That was all Goffin needed to seal the victory when Murray dumped a forehand into the net.
It was an alarming dip in concentration from a player who became so ruthlessly focused in the final months of last season, although whether such a mental slump would occur in a competitive match is a different matter.
For Murray the most important aspect of competing in Abu Dhabi is to gain time on court in a competitive setting.
Despite the defeat, he will get some more match practice today when he faces Milos Raonic in the third place play-off. “I was striking the ball well. “It was a pretty high-quality match for the first match in the year after a break so it was good, just a bit unfortunate in the end,” the three-time grand slam champion said.
“I find it great preparation for the new year. You’re practicing and playing matches against some of the best players in the world.
“So it’s a great way to start the year, get into a good rhythm. It sharpens you up and I’m happy to be back.”
For Goffin, it is a place in the final on his MWTC debut to face three-time winner and defending champion Rafael Nadal. It will be the first time the two players will face each other in a tournament.
“I’m really happy with the way I played,” Goffin said. “I served really well, I think that was the key to staying in the match, particularly against Andy with the way he returns the ball.
“I maintained my level with my serve and I was feeling really good on the baseline, really aggressive. I came to the net when I needed to do, so I’m really happy to play a good match.”
Andy Murray, top, went from 40-15 to losing the 10th game and the tie to David Goffin, above, who served well.