World number one, Andy Murray crashed out of the Monte Carlo Masters following a surprise 2-6 6-2 7-5 loss to Spaniard, Albert Ramos-Vinolas on Thursday afternoon.
The defeat is the latest in a stuttering season for Murray, who was also beaten in the fourth round of the Australian Open by Mischa Zverev; and in the opening round at Indian Wells by Vasek Pospisil.
Having missed the Miami Open and Great Britain’s Davis Cup quarter final in France because of an elbow injury, Murray went into Monte Carlo under a bit of an injury cloud, but the world number one insisted before the tournament that he would not be playing if he was not fully fit.
However, after scraping past big-serving Luxembourger, Gilles Muller in his opening match; the Scot, who served up eight double faults against Muller, admitted that he was still suffering from the effects of the elbow injury- which primarily affected his serve.
Murray must have known he needed to play a lot better in his next match against Ramos-Vinolas, as the Spaniard had worked his way up to a career-high ranking of 24, majorly on the back of his work on clay. The 29-year-old had reached the final in Sao Paolo, as well as semi-finals in Quito and Rio, and he looked very comfortable in his opening couple of matches in Monte Carlo, conceding not more than three games in a set in dispatching Renzo Olivo and Carlos Berlocq.
The first few games of Thursday’s match set the tone for a topsy-turvy contest, with Murray getting the first break on his fifth break point in a lengthy second game.
That was the first of five straight breaks of serve, with Murray emerging with a 4-2 lead. The Scot stopped the run of breaks with a hold for 5-2, and rounded off a sequence of four straight games to take the opening set, sealing the deal with a crisp backhand winner.
Murray was the better player in the opening set, but the 6-2 score-line was a bit harsh on Ramos-Vinolas, who struck the ball very well from the back of the court, and stayed with the top seed in a lot of the extended rallies. He wouldn’t go away quietly.
Ramos-Vinolas struck early in the second set, breaking for the 2-1 lead, and he maintained a high level for the remainder of the set, as Murray’s formed dipped. The Spaniard broke again to lead 5-2, and held in the next game to force a decider.
Apparently still basking in the euphoria of winning the second set, Ramos-Vinolas fell away badly at the start of the third, donating a multitude of unforced errors as Murray coasted to a 4-0 lead, but with Murray seemingly sprinting towards the finish line, the tide turned again as the Spaniard reeled off four straight games to move level with a visibly frustrated Murray.
Murray showed great fight to prevent Ramos-Vinolas from winning five games in a row, battling back from 0-40 down to hold for 5-4, but he wouldn’t be so lucky in his next service game as Ramos-Vinolas broke when Murray sent a forehand beyond the baseline.
The Spaniard was taken to deuce as he attempted to serve out the contest, but he eventually got over the line on his second match point when Murray’s drop shot dropped into the net.
“At 4-0, one of the service games where I got broken, I didn't play such a good game,” Murray said. “Then he obviously started playing better towards the end of the set. I still had a bunch of chances. I guess both of us did really. I think at 4-All, he had 0/40, too. I certainly struggled a bit at the end of the match... A few times today, I made some bad decisions. That's something that, with my team, I'll look at, watch some parts of the match over, see the shots that I chose and what I would do differently.”
Ramos-Vinolas advances to a first Masters 1000 quarter final against Marin Cilic, while Murray is left to mull over another disappointing loss in a troubling season.
Murray was not the only big name to fall in the top half of the draw, as the world number one was followed through the Monte Carlo exit door by 2014 champion, Stan Wawrinka, who was outclassed by Uruguayan clay court expert, Pablo Cuevas 6-4 6-4.
Cuevas broke early in each set, and never looked like relinquishing the advantage, as he went through the match without giving up any break points.
With Murray and Wawrinka out of the top half, opportunity beckons in that half of the draw, with Cilic taking on Ramos-Vinolas and Cuevas playing Lucas Pouille in Friday’s quarter finals.