Andy Murray accused Fernando Verdasco of having illegal coaching after exiting the US Open in the second round.
In what was only his ninth match since returning from hip surgery, Murray went toe-to-toe with the 31st seed in blisteringly hot conditions during the second round in New York, before succumbing to a four-set defeat.
The high temperatures and humidity in New York led to tournament organisers introducing a new rule permitting a ten-minute break between the third and fourth sets during men’s matches.
Players are not allowed to talk to their coaches, which is exactly what Murray said he saw Verdasco doing after finishing a cold shower.
The Scot was furious that it was he who alerted officials to the incident, telling umpire Nico Helwerth when he returned to the court: “I had to tell them because no-one knows the f***ing rules.”
Discussing the matter after Verdasco’s 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-4 victory, Murray said: “I went and told the supervisor. I said, ‘What are you guys doing? I mean, there’s clear rules here and you’re allowing this to take place. I don’t get it.’
“Then he ran through, ‘Oh, you’re not allowed to speak.’ They obviously weren’t in there for long, but you’ve got to do better than that. This is one of the biggest events in the world.”
Verdasco flatly denied any such rule breach had taken place, claiming that while his coach was in the locker room, he spoke only to another player, Marcos Baghdatis, and the Cypriot’s coach.
Verdasco said: “Obviously if Andy says that, I don’t want to say that he lies, but I didn’t talk one word with my coach or any one member of my team. I know exactly the rule and I don’t want to be the one breaking it.”
With tournament organisers apparently unable to shed any light on what happened, it was a case of one man’s word against the other – and Murray was determined to make sure it was he who had the last one.
In a post on Instagram, Murray wrote: “I’m off to get a health check as apparently I’ve started imagining things,” followed by the hashtag #liarliarpantsonfire.
Nick Kyrgios, who has history with Verdasco, also weighed in on the debate, saying of the coaching accusations on Twitter: “Let’s be real, very believable because it is Verdasco lol.”
Murray answered plenty of doubts with his performance against Verdasco – but questions remain as he looks to return to the top of the game.
There were signs of the old Murray in some of the defensive lobs he hoisted, the backhands he drilled into the corners and, in particular, the fire he showed in a fourth set he almost turned around.
But there was also the now-familiar limp, too many double faults and an understandable lack of match tightness that meant it was Verdasco who came out on top for just the second time in their 15 meetings.
Murray knows it is still very early in his comeback and playing two tough best-of-five-set matches will stand him in good stead, but these are baby steps and his ranking remains outside 300.
The 31-year-old remains optimistic he can get back to his best and arrive at grand slams with ambitions to win titles again, rather than simply a match or two, but he knows there are no guarantees.
He said: “There’s for sure doubts because you just don’t know. When I got the injury, I was ranked number one in the world. Twelve months later, things completely changed.
“You just don’t know exactly what’s round the corner. If things keep going smoothly, physically I continue to improve, I believe that I will get back to competing for the biggest competitions because there’s no reason why I couldn’t.
“But when you continue to build up and start playing more tournaments, you don’t know how you’re going to respond.
“Because of the path that I’ve been on the last year with the many, many ups and downs, trying to come back, it not quite working, then ending up having the surgery and stuff, I think it’s completely normal to have those doubts.”
Cameron Norrie also exited in the second round, to end British hopes in New York.
The British No 2, ranked 67th in the world, lost 2-6 6-2 6-4 6-4 against Dusan Lajovic.