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MIR­A­CLE WIN FOR GUTSY MUR­RAY

Andy shows steel in fight­back

- by MIKE DICKSON Ten­nis Cor­re­spon­dent Sports · Tennis · Murray · Japan · United States of America · US Open · Shinkansen · Arthur Ashe · Germany · Roger Federer · London · Brazil · Dominic Thiem · Roberto Bautista-Agut · United States Tennis Association · Carla Suárez-Navarro

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.

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