Mar­vel­lous Mur­ray

Scot bat­tles back from brink to win stun­ning US Open five-set­ter

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Si­mon Briggs tennis correspond­ent

“An un­prece­dented ad­ven­ture,” was how Andy Mur­ray’s for­mer coach Mark Petchey – com­men­tat­ing on Ama­zon Prime – de­scribed our ex­pe­ri­ence of fol­low­ing his ca­reer. This was an­other of those glo­ri­ous mo­ments, as the great­est son of Bri­tish tennis came back from a two-set deficit to de­feat Yoshi­hito Nish­ioka in 4hr 38min.

Mur­ray clenched his fists and roared as he saluted his 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 vic­tory, which he brought up with a mag­nif­i­cent fore­hand lob. It is hard to see how he will be able to drag him­self back on to the court to­mor­row. But never mind. This was the sort of win he must have been dream­ing of when he forced him­self through those end­less hours of mind-numb­ing re­hab, strength­en­ing the mus­cles around his new metal hip.

Af­ter all the chat, all the build-up, Mur­ray’s per­for­mance dur­ing the first 2½ sets had been mys­te­ri­ously flat. Although he won the open­ing point with an­other lovely lob, it soon be­came clear that he was not op­er­at­ing at full power.

“At the be­gin­ning of the match I was ap­pre­hen­sive about play­ing a long match,” he told on-court in­ter­viewer Ren­nae Stubbs at the end. “You pace your­self. You sort of do that as a ju­nior. Once I got two sets down, I had to put the af­ter­burn­ers on and man­aged to come through.

“I had to start strik­ing the ball bet­ter, I was hit­ting it late and ten­ta­tive, then I went and took too many chances and made too many er­rors. I didn’t have the bal­ance. I got that to­wards the end, and was dic­tat­ing more points with my fore­hand.”

In his first meet­ing with a mod­ern tennis le­gend, Nish­ioka must have been sur­prised by Mur­ray’s early lack of ur­gency. Yet he did not hes­i­tate to take ad­van­tage, work­ing the long ral­lies that he thrives on and oc­ca­sion­ally fir­ing in a 90mph fore­hand up the line. Nish­ioka may stand only 5ft 7in, but he is so tac­ti­cally acute that you could imag­ine him be­ing a Go grand­mas­ter on the side.

Why was Mur­ray not fully present? Apart from his ap­pre­hen­sion over whether he would last the course, there was also the eerie ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing in an empty sta­dium that would nor­mally hold al­most 23,000.

The stands were not com­pletely empty, in fact. Apart from the bizarre dig­i­tal faces that pop up as part of the US Open’s tech­no­log­i­cal in­vest­ment, there were nu­mer­ous fa­mous play­ers dot­ted around the suites that would nor­mally be oc­cu­pied by cor­po­rate clients.

Naomi Osaka was prob­a­bly there to cheer her Ja­panese com­pa­triot on, while this year’s Aus­tralian Open cham­pion Sofia Kenin showed up. The list of men read like a who’s who of mod­ern tennis: Marin Cilic, Grigor Dim­itrov, Kyle Ed­mund and Alexan­der Zverev – whom Mur­ray had over­come last week at the Western and South­ern Open. When Do­minic Thiem and Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas joined the view­ing gallery, Mur­ray must have felt an in­tense de­sire to im­press the next gen­er­a­tion.

Of course, Mur­ray’s own back­room staff were liv­ing ev­ery point with him as usual. He has his own suite on Arthur Ashe Sta­dium, and has been ac­com­pa­nied here by his Shane An­nun, who will no doubt have the devil’s own job patch­ing his body back to­gether af­ter this marathon, as well as his long-suf­fer­ing coach Jamie Del­gado, who for most of the match looked like a sea­sick sailor nav­i­gat­ing a gi­ant thundersto­rm.

Mur­ray dropped the first set and then lapsed into a fug of in­ac­tiv­ity and con­fu­sion. Within a few min­utes, he was 4-0 down in the sec­ond – and though he avoided the dreaded 6-0 “bagel”, he was soon down a break in the third as well.

Some­how, though, the old com­pet­i­tive juices be­gan to stir. The feet slot­ted into po­si­tion. That back­hand of the ages found its mark a few times. The mo­ment when the real Mur­ray ar­rived was per­haps the one when a Nish­ioka re­turn pushed him so wide of the court that he slammed his fore­hand around the net, rather than over it. In­cred­i­bly, Nish­ioka was play­ing so well that he still got the ball back and won the point. But never mind. From Mur­ray’s per­spec­tive, when you start play­ing that sort of shot, you know that your sights are back on the tar­get.

Noth­ing was easy here. In or­der to draw level, Mur­ray had to play two full-length sets, which he fi­nally grasped on the tie-break with a fusil­lade of big serves and ag­gres­sive fore­hands. The same sense of tim­ing saw him pro­duce some mon­u­men­tal win­ners in the fi­nal game of the match.

Af­ter­wards, he told Stubbs: “My toes are the worst part. The big toes on both sides are pretty beat up. But I did all right, phys­i­cally.

“My body hurts. I need to re­cover as best as pos­si­ble. I need an ice bath now. They say that there is one in the locker room, but it’s only for emer­gen­cies. For me, this is an emer­gency. That was by far the most tennis I have played since the 2019 Aussie Open.”

Job done: Andy Mur­ray cel­e­brates af­ter seal­ing his marathon vic­tory over Yoshi­hito Nish­ioka in the first round of the US Open af­ter be­ing two sets down and sur­viv­ing match point

Dig­ging deep: Andy Mur­ray serves to Yoshi­hito Nish­ioka dur­ing a gru­elling 4hr 38min con­test

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