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Page last updated at 14:16 GMT, Saturday, 26 March 2011

What's behind Andy Murray's slump in form?

Andy Murray
Murray has failed to win a set since his Australian Open semi-final victory

By Kheredine Idessane
BBC Scotland

Given his status as arguably Scotland's top sportsman, the burning question being asked up and down the land is: what on earth is up with Andy Murray?

Since my BBC remit is to basically stalk the guy, you'd think I'd be in a great position to give you an answer. I wish.

Frankly, I haven't a clue either, other than that it must be much tougher to recover from two crushing Grand Slam defeats in Australia than even Andy realises.

And yet, how is it possible to go from the near-faultless tennis of his first six matches of the year, to the awful displays we've seen in Miami, Indian Wells and Rotterdam?

Not forgetting the hugely disappointing below-par performance in the Australian Open final itself, albeit that was against a player in Novak Djokovic, who has since proved to be unbeatable.

I'm afraid we're now in uncharted territory, as this is officially the worst run of form in Andy's career.

Since turning professional in 2005, he's never lost four matches in a row, far less lost them in straight sets. And he's failed to win a set since seeing off David Ferrer in the last four in Melbourne.

The last two defeats have arguably been the worst of his entire career, losing back to back matches to two qualifiers

It's also, sadly, the first time in his professional career he's gone out of three tournaments in a row in his first match. Rotterdam, Indian Wells and Miami 2011 will all be remembered as the events where he lasted longer in the doubles than the singles.

And it's not just the defeats that are a cause for concern; it's the manner of the losses and the stature of the players he's losing to.

We had a similar downward spiral last year when Andy lost consecutive matches to Robin Soderling in Indian Wells, Mardy Fish in Miami and Philip Kohlschreiber in Monte Carlo.

But you'll have heard of all three of them. Kohlschreiber is just outside the top 30 and is now coached by Murray's former mentor Miles Maclagan. Fish contested the Queens club final last year and won two other titles on the tour. And Soderling, at world number four, is clearly one of the best players on the planet.

So last year it was a slump, this year it's a mini-crisis. Of course, losing to the vastly improved Djokovic back in January in the big Melbourne final was no disgrace at all.

Simply getting there is a wonderful achievement in itself and should be celebrated and admired.

But for a player of Andy's ability, failing to take so much as a set from any of his three Grand Slam finals is not merely, if you'll excuse the pun, a major worry; it's also unprecedented in tennis's Open era.

To then go straight to Rotterdam and lose to the talented former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis was easily forgivable and, perhaps, inevitable, allowing for the post-Melbourne blues.

But what we've seen since then is a worrying disintegration of Murray's game and confidence.

Andy Murray
Murray has struggled to find his best game since Melbourne

The last two defeats have arguably been the worst of his career, losing back to back matches to two qualifiers.

Donald Young was ranked 143 in the world when he knocked the Scot out of Indian Wells the other week; and another American (though he was born in Moscow), Alex Bogomolov Jnr, is barely inside the top 120 and yet is celebrating a "shock" win in Miami.

No disrespect to these two fine gentlemen but Andy, as the world number 5, shouldn't be losing to them. Far less losing to them in straight sets. Indeed, the Murray of early to mid January would have crushed them.

So, what's happened since then to bring on the worst run of his career? Is it physical or mental, or a combination of both?

If it's a mental issue, Andy himself isn't letting on. He assured us he felt much better about this Aussie Open defeat than the one to Federer last year; and that, away from tennis, things are all hunky-dory in his private life.

And in the course of following him for the past couple of years, I've learnt that Andy definitely doesn't believe in sports psychology or psychologists, so it would seem that avenue of help is closed off.

So what about the physical?

I must admit, I thought Andy was carrying some sort of injury into the Australian Open final but when I asked him afterwards, he flatly denied it, though he did admit his movement around the court wasn't what it should be.

There are some long faces in team Murray at the moment: part-time consultant Alex Corretja didn't travel to Australia; was there for Indian Wells but then didn't go to Miami.

As far as I'm aware, he is still due to guide Andy through the upcoming clay court season.

And yet Andy has just promoted his hitting partner and best friend Dani Vallverdu, a former Davis Cup player for Venezuela, to be his main coach. He wants more continuity on the year-long grind that is the ATP Tour.

But where is the big-name, experienced coach who'll help guide him to the next level, a level he's surely just a couple of shots away from?

With the French Open just two months away, it's time for Andy to re-focus and re-energise

When he fired Miles Maclagan last summer, Andy said at the time he intended to look long and hard for the right man to guide him through the most important phase of his career.

No announcement came, other than to say he was staying with Corretja until after Wimbledon, when the coaching situation would be reviewed again.

There's no middle ground with Andy at the moment: he's either awesome or awful.

Back to back Australian Open finals and consecutive Masters Series final wins over Roger Federer in Toronto and Shanghai; or straight sets defeats to the likes of Donald Young and Bogomolov Jnr, whose name is an even more impressive scrabble score that yours truly.

Would Roger, Rafa, Novak or any of the rest of the top ten lose to these guys? No. Not in straight sets. And not two tournaments in a row.

So, with the French Open just two months away, it's time for Andy to re-focus and re-energise.

Last year it took him until the summer grass court season to recover his game. Let's hope he gets back to form much quicker this year.

He's far too good a player not to maximise his talent and win one of the big four. Do I believe he'll still do it? Yes.

However, if winning a match is beyond him right now, the prospect of securing a Slam must seem more daunting than ever.

Follow Kheredine Idessane on Twitter

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see also
Murray suffers shock Miami defeat
25 Mar 11 |  Tennis
Toughen up Murray - Navratilova
22 Mar 11 |  Tennis
Defeat hard to take for Murrays
17 Mar 11 |  Tennis
Murray suffers shock Masters loss
13 Mar 11 |  Tennis
Is 2011 Andy Murray's year?
02 Mar 11 |  Scotland

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