Even after one of his best wins in recent years, there was no respite for Andy Murray. Two days after he defeated the world No 10 Hubert Hurkacz to clinch his second top 10 win since 2017, the Briton was unable to advance further into the draw at the Erste Bank Open as he was outplayed 6-3, 6-4 by his 18-year-old opponent Carlos Alcaraz.
Murray had arrived in his second round match at the Vienna ATP 500 tournament with the positive memories of a recent excellent victory against Alcaraz at Indian Wells in which he ground down the teenage Spaniard in a physical three-set tussle. But after a run of tournaments and the physical match against Hurkacz, he also had plenty of tennis in his legs and it showed on the court.
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When the pair faced each other at Indian Wells, Alcaraz was competing for the first time after his breakout run to the quarter-finals of the US Open, which ended with a retirement due to injury and some physical issues still lingered in California. But in Vienna, after defeating Dan Evans in the opening round, he slipped into a dangerous rhythm.
Throughout the first set, Alcaraz controlled the baseline, demonstrating his court sense by fluidly mixing clean, destructive forehands with well-timed drop shots. He snatched the decisive break for a 3-2 lead and he maintained his serve until the end. As the second set began, Murray slowly imposed himself on the contest, making the match more physical as the rally length again increased. He swiftly broke serve for a 2-1 lead.
But he struggled to maintain control. During most of his service games in the set, he found himself down 0-30 or facing break point. For a period he rose to those occasions, scuppering Alcaraz’s opportunities with good serving, smart forays to the net and some bold forehands under pressure.
But the consistent pressure imposed by Alcaraz’s returning eventually told as the Spaniard generated more break points at 3-4 in the set, slamming down a violent forehand winner on break point to take the advantage. As Alcaraz followed up the break with a quick hold, the momentum had definitively shifted. A visibly tired Murray stepped up to the baseline at 4-5 and at 30-30, after a long, physical exchange, Alcaraz demolished a running crosscourt forehand winner to bring up match point. After Murray spent the following moments bent over in exhaustion, Alcaraz rose to seal a solid win.
A defeat for Murray is no shame in an incredibly difficult Vienna draw, which started the week with 11 top 20 players in addition to many other dangerous players such as Alcaraz, one of the best young talents on the tour. But he departs Vienna having taken a step forward with his opening win, yet with identical frustrations as before the event. He is performing increasingly well and making strides with his game, but with his ranking still outside the top 100, he soon needs to string matches together and embark on deeper runs in tournaments.