Can Andy Murray start playing like the world No. 1 again? – ESPN

PARIS — It seems like everyone has an opinion on Andy Murray.

As the world No. 1 began his French Open campaign here Tuesday with a four-set win against Andrey Kuznetsov, numerous voices have been itching to explain what exactly has happened to the man who stormed to the top of the world rankings last year.

Did the sheer effort it took to reach No. 1 place too much stress on his body? Did he lose motivation after achieving one of his career goals? Is it just that he is now the hunted, rather than the hunter? Or is it none of the above — that he will snap out of it sooner rather than later?

After a tight first two sets against Kuznetsov, Murray looked much happier than he had across the entire clay-court season, particularly in the third and fourth sets, when he pulled away to a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory.

“It definitely got better as it went on,” Murray said. “I started to move a bit better toward the end. I still think there are some things I can do better. But it’s a decent start.”

It did not need Murray to confirm — as he did earlier this week — that he has been in a slump in 2017.

Since reaching No. 1 thanks to a stunning second half of 2016, when he reached the final at Roland Garros, won Wimbledon and then reeled off five straight titles later in the season, illness and injury have contributed to his poor form.

A viral illness in the week before the French Open affected his build-up, but Murray said he was ready to go, and he insists he will rediscover his form at some time. He just doesn’t know when.

Second-guessing the mind of Murray is a fruitless task, but if anyone is likely to have a real insight into his psyche, then perhaps it is his former coaches.

“It looks like just from watching on TV that he’s struggling between the balance of offense and defense,” said ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert, who coached Murray from 2006 to ’07. “He’s not in a good mix. Last year on this surface, I thought it was the best I’d ever seen Andy play in the clay-court season. He was playing closer to the baseline, and he was being dominant with the forehand. I think that set up his entire season after that.”

Miles Maclagan, who replaced Gilbert as coach and who worked with Murray from 2007 to 2010, said becoming No. 1 may be something Murray has struggled to come to terms with, as much because it is something new.

Maclagan said the return of Lendl, who arrived in Paris on the Monday before the tournament began, could be the key to getting Murray back to his best form.

“He can get through the first week, and then things can settle into place,” Maclagan said. “He can put a different perspective on it and say, ‘Look, enjoy this pressure.'”

Former world No. 4 Greg Rusedski, another Eurosport pundit, suggested that it might even have been worth Murray skipping the French Open to allow his body and mind to heal and to be fresh for the grass-court season.

“Coming into the French I don’t know if he’s really ready because he must be a little bit fatigued, mentally and physically, because of what he’s had to endure this year. Any No. 1 in the world, with shingles and the injury he has had, would not be able to sustain it, it’s just not humanly possible,” Rusedski said.

Lendl was courtside Tuesday, having not been present since the Australian Open. But Murray dismissed suggestions that was a reason for his struggles.

“Always when things are not going well people will try to find the reason why,” Murray said. “Blame Ivan or whatever it is, an injury or, you know, that I’m not motivated or whatever.

“I do think that ideally we would have spent more time together. That’s the situation that we were in and it worked fine last year, and no one said anything. But because things didn’t go well this year, there has to be a reason.”

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