Andy Murray suffered a shocking upset in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on Monday, falling to Federico Delbonis 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (3) in Indian Wells, California.
Murray lost his serve twice in the opening set to trail 2-1 and 4-3 thereafter. Although he bounced back to break in the next game after his first loss of serve, Murray couldn't pull off the trick the next time around and dropped the first set as a result.
Credit goes to Delbonis for how well he held his own on service games, which helped offset Murray's comeback charge in the second set.
The Argentine won 13 of 17 first-serve points and hit 68 percent of his first serves in play to take the opening set. Murray was less proficient, converting only eight of 15 such points and had a first-serve percentage of only 50.
The tournament's official Twitter account reacted to how the start of the match was unfolding, with Delbonis putting forth a serious upset bid:
BNP Paribas Open @BNPPARIBASOPEN
You see that one coming? #Delbonis captures 1st set 6-4 vs. Andy Murray. Can the No.2 seed turn it around? #BNPPO16 https://t.co/7l5MpbcocJ2016-3-14 20:55:25
ATP Reactions had a fitting response after capturing footage of Murray arguing a call, which paralleled how his day was going:
ATP Reactions @ATPreactions
Showing your level of productivity on a Monday morning like https://t.co/IMrXmsGdkh2016-3-14 21:21:53
Murray came out firing in the second set, racing out to a 40-0 lead in the first game to hold, but Delbonis challenged him shortly thereafter. He pushed Murray to break point in the third game before Murray held on.
Despite holding a 2-1 advantage at the time, the No. 2 seed wasn't gaining much traction. But Delbonis had three more break opportunities he couldn't convert, including one with the ad-out edge at 4-4, which could have given him a chance to serve for the match in the subsequent game.
Carole Bouchard of Sports Illustrated noticed Murray wasn't firing on all cylinders:
Carole Bouchard @carole_bouchard
Murray's return is totally off. Happens so rarely to him.2016-3-14 21:28:52
The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg highlighted a statistic that told the story of Murray's unsteady play:
Ben Rothenberg @BenRothenberg
Federico Delbonis finishes off #2 Andy Murray despite some shaky moments, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(3). -19 winner/unforced margin for Andy in defeat.2016-3-14 22:59:55
Even without his best stuff, Murray staged a commendable, gritty effort to pull out the second set. After saving a break in the prior game, the momentum shifted a bit, as Murray closed out Delbonis with a clutch break to force a decider.
The serve story shifted drastically in the second set, wherein Murray hit 75 percent of his first serves in play, compared to 60 percent for Delbonis.
What made Murray's difficulties more unexpected was how well he had historically fared against southpaws, per TennisAbstract.com's Jeff Sackmann:
Sky Sports' Annabel Croft had a keen observation that may have been part of the reason Murray initially had trouble tracking the ball off Delbonis' racket:
Annabel Croft @Annabel_Croft
Spot the ball ! Delbonis might@have highest ball toss I've ever seen - effective though @SkySportsTennis https://t.co/3EhDUjPe8E2016-3-14 21:15:22
The concluding set was on course to be anticlimactic because of Murray's dominance—until he surrendered a break while up 4-2 to give Delbonis new life. Delbonis went on to win all but two of the subsequent third-set games, highlighted by his break to go up 6-5.
When given the chance to serve out the match, though, Delbonis fell into a 15-40 hole. Although he dug out of it, Murray eventually earned the break after deuce to lead to extra tennis.
Murray created the initial separation by winning the first two points, but Delbonis got hot when it mattered the most to crush his heavily favored foe in the tiebreaker.
Considering this was Murray's first ATP event since his runner-up showing at the Australian Open in January, there was bound to be some rust to knock off. The 28-year-old was facing his toughest Indian Wells adversary thus far in Delbonis, who defeated the likes of Stan Wawrinka in Geneva in May.
Andrew Castle of BBC TV Tennis touted the other viable opponents Delbonis has bested of late to put his form versus Murray in sharp context:
Andrew Castle @AndrewCastle63
Delbonis is a strong horse. 25 yrs old, ranked 53, high of 34. He's won good matches this year, Fognini, Sock, Lorenzi. #Murray #IndWells2016-3-14 21:09:57
The surprising stumble by Murray was within the spirit of March Madness. It also came a day after Bjorn Fratangelo pushed No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic to three sets. Djokovic lost the opening set 6-2 before bouncing back and losing only three games the rest of the way.
Rafael Nadal also dropped a set in his second-round win against Gilles Muller. The Indian Wells draw has no shortage of pitfalls, which even the most decorated, elite players evidently aren't immune to.
Delbonis will proceed to the round of 16 and face the winner of Monday evening's showdown between Gael Monfils and Albert Ramos-Vinolas.
A shot at redemption is immediately on the horizon for Murray in next week's Masters event in Miami. Djokovic defeated Murray in last year's final, so the latter will be keen on revenge after being bested by Djoker in the Australian Open and losing at Indian Wells.
Per Bouchard, Murray expressed optimism about his chances of recovering in short order for the Miami Masters:
Carole Bouchard @carole_bouchard
Murray also not happy w/ serve but overall not worried about level of play as he played well in DC and is ready. Hopes it clicked in Miami.2016-3-15 00:14:14
But Murray was also a bit despondent and cited his history at the venue as one of the reasons things went wrong on Monday.
"The conditions here I've just struggled with throughout my career," said Murray in his press conference, per the tournament's official Twitter account. "It's a shame."
A lack of confidence that he could have success at Indian Wells in the first place may have contributed to Murray's downfall. As long as he can shake off an uncharacteristic match, he ought to benefit from a bit of extra rest before heading to the Sunshine State.
Match stats and draw information courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com.