MIRACLE WIN FOR GUTSY MURRAY
Andy shows steel in fightback
The flesh may be weakening but Andy Murray’s spirit is as strong as ever and last night he produced a sensational comeback on his return to Grand Slam tennis.
The 33 year- old Scot and his bionic hip took down Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 to make the second round of the US Open with yet another never-say-die performance.
Down a match point in the fourth set and a break in the decider he refused to lie down, and eventually broke his opponent’s spirit to win in four hours and 40 minutes.
Seemingly faster than the bullet train in his retrieving around the baseline, Murray was well aware of the threat that Japanese world No 48 Yoshihito Nishioka posed when he walked out onto the vast, deserted Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Despite the clear and present danger Murray came out flat, for all that he opened proceedings with a magnificent lob on the very first point in his first singles Major since Melbourne 2019.
For a long while it looked like he was going to acquit himself way worse than on that emotional evening when he fought back from two sets down to force Spanish workhorse Roberto Bautista Agut to five sets. By remarkable coincidence, the first four sets mirrored the scoreline of that match.
An early break was squandered and then Murray, who was landing only four out of ten first serves in the court, went behind for 4-3.
There was little penetration on his first serve, the forehand could not punch any holes and he was getting repeatedly passed at the net for the first hour and a half.
Nishioka seemed to be comfortably playing within himself as he went up 4-0 in the second, and the question raised itself about whether the Scot had been hiding some injury setback from the past few days. his body language was lifeless and he looked every inch the world No 115 — which is the reality after his prolonged absence from the tour — and it was difficult to credit that only last week he had beaten American Frances Tiafoe and Germany’s world No 7 Alex Zverev.
Of course, 33 used to be considered fairly ancient for a tennis player and the Scot was playing like a throwback to that era. Among the surprising aspects was how little success he was having against his opponent’s eminently attackable second serve.
Starved of any atmosphere to feed off the in the 25,000- seat arena, scene of so many triumphs, he vaguely stirred at 0-4 down in the second, when his first ‘doughnut’ set beckoned since Roger Federer wiped him out at London’s 02 Arena in 2014.
Most of his openings came through creeping unforced errors on the Japanese side and it was only after more than two hours of play that we started to see a more familiar version of Murray.
he recovered an early break in the third, showcasing his volleying skills, and gradually he began to crank up his forehand.
In the tiebreak he repeatedly struck out off that flank to edge ahead of his opponent. he made no mistake after getting ahead for 6-4, clinching his second set point by forcing his opponent back in the court and finally letting out the old war cry.
In the locker room the players know that Murray is less explosive, not the physical specimen he once was, but that sooner or later his fighting spirit is likely to come to the fore. What was strange last night was just how long that process took, possibly connected to the feeling of inertia created by the empty stands.
The low, skiddy serve from the other end was continuing to cause Murray problems and he struggled to gain any headway against it in the fourth, while regularly having to fend off break points. It was to Nishioka’s credit that he did not allow the disappointment of the tiebreak to cause any major momentum swing.
It was the former world No 1 having strain every sinew to stay in the match. Two uncharacteristically poor volleys led to him facing a first match point at 5-6, but a pinpoint first serve that Nishioka returned long saved him and secured the second tiebreak.
The less experienced player’s nerve then proved the weaker and with nearly four hours already on the clock, Murray took it into the decider.
The last of the British male quartet to play their first round was in action last night, national No 1 evans taking on Brazil’s Thiago Seyboth Wild.
● AUSTRIA’S Dominic Thiem, who was in first round action last night, was given an unusual code violation for ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ before he had even taken to the court. The official USTA explanation was that members of his entourage had been found not to be wearing their compulsory masks in all areas around the site.
● SpAIN’S Carla Suarez Navarro, the former world No 6, has announced that she has been diagnosed with hodgkin’s Lymphoma and faces six months of chemotherapy treatment.