Andy Murray imploded during his final service game in both sets of Wednesday's 2014 Sony Open quarterfinals loss to fellow superstar Novak Djokovic, who stormed to victory by a score of 7-5, 6-3.
The second-seeded Djokovic was biding his time in the opening set as both players served brilliantly in the early going at this Miami Masters event. What triggered Murray's downfall was a controversial call when he was on serve trailing 5-6.
After an extensive rally during that game, replay showed that Djokovic reached over the net to hit a winning volley. It's an illegal move, because players aren't permitted to play a ball that isn't on their side of the net—even if they don't touch the net itself.
However, the umpire still awarded the point to the Serbinator. Sports Illustrated's Courtney Nguyen, along with many others, felt it was the improper ruling:
Poor call. Djokovic clearly reaches over the net to contact the ball but ump says contact occurred on his side. Murray now 0-30.— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) March 26, 2014
That bad break threw Murray off his rhythm, and he never recovered, getting broken at love to let the first set slip away.
Josh Meiseles of ATPWorldTour.com weighed in on the situation, feeling that Murray was wrongfully denied an opportunity to win the opening set:
Someone call the cops. There's been a robbery on Stadium court. Murray broken to love and Djokovic steals the first set 7-5.— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) March 26, 2014
The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg recorded what Murray had to say afterward, when he noted that Djokovic admitted to the blunder:
Murray pinned no blame at all for the net incident on Djokovic. "Novak told me he was over the net," said Andy, absolvingly.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 26, 2014
It appeared the reigning Wimbledon champion wouldn't muster enough for a comeback to force a third set until he broke Djokovic to go up 3-2.
But Murray squandered the next game on serve, and was broken again at love to go down 3-5. Djokovic served out the match without losing a point, putting an abrupt end to this anticipated showdown.
As Tennis TV pointed out, Murray had just 16 winners to 29 unforced errors:
Here are the Djokovic-Murray numbers. Djoker through to play either Federer or Nishikori in the semis later this week pic.twitter.com/meIajDEBTh— TennisTV (@TennisTV) March 26, 2014
Dealing with the power of Djokovic's groundstrokes and serve on a hard court is an unenviable task. However, it was disappointing that Murray didn't display more mettle down the stretch, given his status as a world-class returner.
Stuart Fraser noted how the loss will drop Murray to No. 8 in the ATP singles rankings, which marks his lowest standing since August 2008:
Djokovic beats Murray 7-5 6-3. Murray drops to world No 8, lowest ranking since Aug 2008, but positive signs that he'll move back up soon.— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) March 26, 2014
The win is vengeance of sorts for Djokovic—whose last meeting was with Murray in losing the 2013 Wimbledon final—and he improved his overall record versus the Scot to 12-8.
This continued an exciting history between the two at this particular tournament, too. Murray beat Djokovic in the 2009 final but lost in 2012 before coming back and winning the title last year.
While there were encouraging signs for Murray in this tournament featuring an elite field, he must learn how to handle moments of adversity with better consistency. Too often his attitude flares up and winds up taking him out of a match, something that happens more rarely for the likes of his all-time great peers in Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
As for Djokovic, he has the semifinals to look forward to, where he will face the winner of Federer and upstart No. 20 seed Kei Nishikori. Federer lost the final to Djokovic at Indian Wells just two weeks ago, so that's a matchup that tennis fans would love to see.