- Chris Wilkinson
Murray only operating at 65% of his potentialChris Wilkinson April 4, 2012
After he crashed out of Indian Wells, I think Andy Murray would have happily taken a runner-up finish in Miami.
The world No. 4 was ultimately second best against Novak Djokovic in the final, but I think Ivan Lendl will be pleased with Murray's performance at Crandon Park.
On the balance of play over the two weeks, I think Djokovic played the best tennis and deserved to defend his Sony Ericsson Open title, although Murray was hampered by walkovers.
While he won't have had any complaints about getting a free pass into the final after Rafael Nadal pulled out with a knee injury, I don't think it helped his cause. With just one match under his belt, he was denied the chance to get some momentum going when third-round opponent Milos Raonic pulled out with an ankle problem.
At a tournament you get into a routine, and the top guys often play their way into form but Murray's progress was very stop-start. Playing the up-and-coming Raonic would have been a good gauge of how well he was playing, but in the end Djokovic was the only real test for him, and losing to the world No. 1 is nothing to be ashamed of.
In all honesty I think Murray is currently operating at about 65% of his potential. For him, it is better to have lost early in Indian Wells and hit some form in Miami rather than vice versa. He has now got a couple of weeks to prepare for the clay season and he can build on the confidence he would have gained from some good wins at Key Biscayne. If he had lost in the opening round in Miami, he would then have three weeks to sulk and it would be much harder to recover.
I always think it takes a good week to get used to playing on clay, although for someone like Nadal who grew up playing on the red dirt it is obviously easier for him than for some of the other players. But no matter how many hours you put in on the practice court, it is no substitute for match practice.
Getting a good run of matches is key for any player, and if Murray is to have a good run on the clay, the Monte Carlo draw could be crucial. An early clash against a clay-court specialist - someone like Juan Monaco - would be tough, and an early defeat makes it hard to mentally recharge.
A good run in Monte Carlo, like he did last year, could set up his clay court run and determine how well he does at the French Open. He did well on the clay last year so there will be a little bit more pressure than in previous years - he has a fair few points to defend after reaching the semi-finals in Monte Carlo and Rome as well as the French Open.
It is not his best surface, but all the top guys are pretty good at adapting to the different surfaces these days, especially seeing as the hard courts are not as fast as they used to be. The courts in Miami are slower, which makes the transition to clay that much easier. The key thing is adjusting your movement.
But in Lendl he has a former three-time French Open champion - if Lendl can't bring on Murray's clay-court game, nobody can.
That said, I don't think Lendl can turn Murray into a winner at Roland Garros. I think that is going to be the usual suspects of Djokovic and Nadal, and also Roger Federer.
Until his surprise defeat to Andy Roddick, Federer has been in phenomenal form this season, and having reached the final last year and won the title back in 2009, he cannot be written off.
Djokovic claims he is playing as well as he was 12 months ago, which is ominous for his rivals. Obviously the results haven't been quite so impressive in 2012 - he failed to defend his titles in Dubai and Indian Wells, but last year was just phenomenal - it was always going to be hard to emulate his performances.
Time will tell just how well he is playing. With so many points to defend on clay, it will be a very interesting couple of months.
As for Nadal, we'll have to wait and see just how serious this latest injury is. Nadal always seems to have one injury niggle or another, but that is the way he is built. While Roger Federer continues to defy his age, injury problems are always going to be a concern for Nadal.
I would have thought at least part of his decision to pull out of Miami was influenced by the forthcoming clay season - he has a lot of points to defend, but more crucially, if he is fit there are plenty more points to be won as he looks to close the gap on Djokovic.
Speaking of gaps, the gulf between top four and the rest of the field is widening, with Murray well over 3000 points ahead of world No. 5 David Ferrer. It's time for the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro to make the step up and challenge the top four.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1