Wipe­out

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.

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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.”

Nezar Balout / AFP

Nezar Balout / AFP; EPA

Andy Mur­ray, top, went from 40-15 to los­ing the 10th game and the tie to David Gof­fin, above, who served well.

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