Clay has always been Andy Murray’s least successful surface and once again the world no.8 faces heading into the French Open looking a little vulnerable after taking a sound beating at the Madrid Masters.
It has always taken a while for Murray to find his clay-court shoes and after a month away from competition practising in the States and on the clay of Paris, it is perhaps unsurprising that he was not particularly convincing in the Spanish capital this week.
“Practice is important for me on this surface more than most because I need to get used to the movements again, patterns of play that I use on this surface, which is different to the other courts,” he said.
“I need to get used to playing points on this surface, because there are things that you do on the clay that don't necessarily work on other surfaces, and things that work on other courts don't work so well on the clay.
So it takes a lot of time on the court playing a lot of sets for me to get back into that routine.”
Murray did well to see off Nicolas Almagro in three sets on Wednesday evening, a player who stunned Rafael Nadal in Barcelona just over a week ago, but he was made to look distinctly second class on the dirt by Santiago Giraldo in the last sixteen.
Murray appeared flat-footed as the Columbian dominated most of the match en route to a 6-3, 6-2 victory which was as straightforward as it sounds.
Murray has always been convinced he’s capable of matching the best on clay and made the French Open semi-finals in 2011.
However since his development into a Grand Slam winning force, he’s become progressively less consistent at the smaller tournaments, something he’s keen to correct after seeing his ranking slip to No.8 despite being Wimbledon champion.
“It's tough, because some days just now I'm playing well, and then the next day I'm not playing well,” he said after the Giraldo match.
“Sometimes in matches I'm playing really well for periods, and then other times not great at all.
So, I need to become more consistent. My best tennis or my sort of base level has to stay the same for a lot longer. It’s just something where I need to be mentally stronger and mentally a bit more switched on for longer periods in matches.”
Murray admits he’s at a loss to try and explain why he struggles to find that extra 10% when he’s competing in the Masters or ordinary Tour-level events.
So far this year he’s suffered losses to Giraldo, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic, all opponents he’s been able to handle over best of five sets.
“To be honest, I don't know,” he said.
“I think the problem for me over the last few years has been that outside of the slams, I just haven't had that consistency at all, And then when I've got to the slams I've played well pretty much every time.
So I don't know if it's a question of confidence or not. I've had periods of before in my career when I’ve struggled with that but it isn't really how it feels right now.”
But away from the perplexing inconsistencies of his own tennis, Murray was happy to talk about the form of French youngster Caroline Garcia who he famously nominated as a future world no.1 after watching her come close to beating Maria Sharapova at the French Open one year.
“I say hi to her every time I walk past,” he said.
“A lot of people have made fun of me for the last couple years about that tweet. Now they're getting more and more quiet because she's very, very good, and she's going to continue to get better. I really like the way she plays.
I think physically I saw quite a big difference in her this year compared with last year. She won her first tournament a few weeks ago and she's going to keep getting better.”
Murray’s focus will now turn towards the Rome Masters.
He’s rarely played especially well at the event, retiring in the second round against Marcel Granollers last year and losing to Richard Gasquet in 2012 but it was the scene of one of his best ever displays on the dirt in 2011 when he made the semis and pushed Novak Djokovic all the way.
Murray will also have a little more time on his hands to continue his search for a new coach, something he’s keen to finalise before Wimbledon gets underway.
John McEnroe recently threw his hat into the ring but whether the American would be able to commit to the number of weeks on tour Murray would require remains questionable. Former world no.4 Jonas Bjorkman has also been touted as a potential contender with Swedish coaches in vogue right now after Magnus Norman’s successful work with Stanislas Wawrinka.
As a player Bjorkman was largely renowned for his doubles prowess but he made the Wimbledon and US Open semi-finals in singles and has a sharp, tactical brain, something which would fit well with Murray.