Andy Murray produced one of those fightbacks for which he is famous as he pulled back from match point down to defeat a gutsy Yoshihito Nishioka in his opening match at the US Open.
I am tired. At the beginning of the match, I was apprehensive to play a long match. But when I went two sets down, I had to put the after-burners on. Andy Murray
Since having his hip rebuilt Murray has frequently revealed how he has dreamed of playing in the majors again as he missed playing on the big stages of the sport where he has regularly battled with the best in the world.
He has now fulfilled that dream and in a manner which shows that his body can take the pressure of five sets and that his fighting spirit has not wavered an iota as he again showed a match can always be salvaged if you have the desire. And that ‘never say die’ attitude which he has in droves.
What he obviously missed was the presence of the crowd which provides him with the fuel to fire up his fighting juices and it took him a couple of sets to become accustomed to the eerie quiet within the vast 25,000 seater, Covid-free, Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Notwithstanding the unfortunate circumstances in which matches are being played at Flushing Meadows this year, Murray’ performance in the first two sets were lacklustre and when he went down a break in the third it looked like his dream of a successful comeback at the majors would be short-lived.
There were elements of the old Murray as he complained to his corner and coach Jamie Delgado, about his frustrations and blaming him for his current situation, etc., as well as the problems his opponent, a wily and speedy Japanese player with a penetrating forehand plus a good tactical brain, was creating for him.
Somehow he found the answer and the competitiveness of his character finally took over and after four hours and 39-minutes he limped off court having secured a 4-6 4-6 7-6(5) 7-6(4) 6-4 victory to reveal courtside: “My toes are the worst part. The big toes on both sides are pretty beat up. But I did all right, physically.”
That was always going to be the problem, Would his body actually stand up to nearly five hours of physical abuse? It did – the question now is will he be able to recover fast enough for his next opponent on Thursday and if again successful, can it continue deep into the tournament. Only time will tell but if not, it won’t be for the lack of trying by the 33-year-old Scot.
For his body to have a chance, he will have to get off to better starts. On this occasion, he was flat footed during the opening sets, his first serve was virtually non-existent as Nishioka controlled events from the other side of the court. But as Nishioka moved to within touching distance of the second round, Murray found his concentration, his forehand and his first serve and started to make good use of all his experience and look more like the player who had stood at the top of tree in his time.
Having avoided a three-set defeat, the former world number one, now ranked 115, hung on in the fourth saving a match point before going on to level the match.
Having received attention to his big toe, Murray fell behind in the decider but immediately broke back and in the process, broke Nishioka’s resolve, to seal victory with a Murray special, a beautifully executed and well placed lob.
“I am tired,” Murray confessed. “At the beginning of the match, I was apprehensive to play a long match. But when I went two sets down, I had to put the after-burners on.
“I had to start striking the ball a little bit better. I was hitting the ball a bit late and too tentatively and then went the other way and was making errors.
“I had to get my balance right. I think I served fairly well at the end, not so much at the beginning.”
In the second round Murray will meet Canada’s Felix Auger Aliassime, the 15th seed, in what will be another testing match and as the Scot says, the key will be how well he recovers from the first.
“I need to recover as best as I can as that’s by far the most tennis I have played since 2019 when I faced Roberto Bautista Agut at the Australian Open.”
The current British No.1 Dan Evans, was also in action on Day Two of the US Open and hopes to at least emulate his third-round appearance last year.
He faced the 20-year-old Brazilian Thiago Seyboth Wild, the 2018 US Open Junior champion making his senior grand slam debut, who didn’t give him much trouble until the third game to slow down the 23rd seed’s seemingly inevitable run to victory.
Evans secured his 6-2 6-1 7-6(5) win after two-hours and 16-minutes to make, for the first time since 1974, four Britons in the second round (following Cameron Norrie’s and Kyle Edmund’s wins on Monday) at the US Open.