Former champion Andy Murray produced the highlight performance of the opening day at this year’s US Open and while he lost a tight five-setter, he proved to himself, his fans and the tennis world at large that he still had the competitive spirit and game to play at the highest level of the sport.
From a physical perspective, I thought I did quite well. I would have liked to have done a little bit better physically at times, but there were also other circumstances that were not helping that either. Overall I did well tonight, but I'm really, really disappointed... after that, frustrated, all those things. Really disappointed. Andy Murray
When the draw was made and he was picked out to play the third seed and one of the title favourites, the Brit with the rebuilt hip, was not expected to make much of an impression on the Greek world number three but as he has done throughout his career, he surprised everyone.
Prior to his hip operation in 2019 and subsequent series of related injuries, Murray with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, made up a group known as the ‘Big Four’ and between them dominated the grand slam titles for over a decade.
On Monday Murray showed why he had been a member of that group as he took one of the players destined to dominate in the future as the pair produced an enthralling first round match in what were very humid conditions out on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Throughout the four hours and 36-minute contest, the match swung back and forth with the final outcome unclear until the final minutes as Murray’s doggedness kept him in sight of a major opening day upset.
But that was not to be, and the former world number one currently ranked 112, eventually conceded a 2-6 7-6(7) 3-6 6-3 6-4 defeat allowing Tsitsipas to avoid a second first round defeat at a major following his early loss at Wimbledon last July.
“I’ve said it a lot over these past few months that I know I’m capable of playing that tennis,” Murray commented later. “I need to spend time on the court, getting the chance to play against these guys. Ultimately, when I get on the court with them, I need to prove it. I guess tonight I proved some things to a certain extent. Obviously I didn’t win the match tonight.
“From a physical perspective, I thought I did quite well. I would have liked to have done a little bit better physically at times, but there were also other circumstances that were not helping that either.
“Overall I did well tonight, but I’m really, really disappointed… after that, frustrated, all those things. Really disappointed.”
Having tested Hubert Hurkacz and Frances Tiafoe respectively in Cincinnati and Winston-Salem in second-round defeats at the warm-up events, Murray admitted his fitness was there but errors had cost him matches. This time he finished with 38 unforced errors, 13 less than his opponent.
The pair sweated profusely throughout the opening sets and Murray found himself in trouble late in the second with his footwear which had soaked through to such an extent he was losing grip.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have another pair with him and tried to dry them out at the change overs with the air-conditioning hose provided beside the players chairs.
“That’s my bag, but I’ve never had that happen in a match. The shoes I was wearing were pretty new,” Murray admitted. “I’ve never had issues with my shoes during a match before. Certainly, never what was happening there.
“The shoes got so wet that at the end of the set I was slipping basically and was losing balance. That’s why I needed to change after the set and it was fine. But I guess something for me to learn from and in the future make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
He lost the second set because of those shoes, slipping badly when leading 5-3 in the tie-break, just two points away from really setting the match alight!
However, that wasn’t the only ‘circumstance’ which affected the 34-year-old and at the end of the match itself, Murray showed his irritation at the time wasting tactics which Tsitsipas had employed by just about acknowledging his victory at the net with a weak handshake and then voicing his concerns at the practice for which the Greek is now well known.
Having played his best tennis since his major operation and proved he could hold his own against current top-flight opponents, he blasted Tsitsipas for the tactics he had to use to ensure victory, especially the eight-minute break at the start of the deciding fifth set which he in fact tested to the full ending up with a time-violation – and it wasn’t the first time. Previously he had been attended to by the physio for his knee, but he still moved freely!
“It’s not so much leaving the court,” Murray said. “It’s the amount of time. I spoke to my team before the match about it and said to expect that, prepare for it if things were not going his way. So, I was trying to do that.
“But the issue is that you cannot stop the way that that affects you physically. When you’re playing a brutal match like that, you know, stopping for seven, eight minutes, you do cool down.
“I don’t believe it was causing him any issue at all. The match went on for another two and a bit hours after that or something. He was fine, moving great I thought.
“It’s just disappointing because I feel it influenced the outcome of the match. I’m not saying I necessarily win that match, for sure, but it had influence on what was happening after those breaks,” he added. “I rate him a lot. I think he’s a brilliant player. I think he’s great for the game. But I have zero time for that stuff at all, and I lost respect for him.”
Murray is now calling for a rule change which has been a major topic of discussion within the sport for many months.
“Right now sitting here I feel like it’s nonsense and they need to make a change because it’s not good for the sport, it’s not good for TV, it’s not good for fans,” he went on.
“I’m sitting in here after a match like that against one of the best players in the world, and rather than talking about how fantastic he is, how good he is for the game, how great it was for me that I was able to put on a performance like that after everything that’s gone on the last four years, but I’m sitting in here talking about bathroom breaks and medical timeouts and delays in matches. That’s rubbish. I don’t think that that’s right.
“I would have said the same thing if I’d won, I promise. It was nonsense, and he knows it.”
Tsitsipas shrugged off the criticism and pointed out it was withing the rules.
“If there’s something that he has to tell me, we should speak the two of us to kind of understand what went wrong,” Tsitsipas said.
“I don’t think I broke any rules. I played by the guidelines, how everything is. Yeah, definitely something for both of us to kind of chat about and make sure. I don’t know how my opponent feels when I’m out there playing the match. It’s not really my priority.
“As far as I’m playing by the rules and sticking to what the ATP says is fair, then the rest is fine. I have nothing against him. Absolutely nothing.”
Interestingly that is now the second consecutive match in which he has been accused of time wasting, the last against Alexander Zverev who went as far as pointing out he could be receiving coaching via text messages while out of sight!
As far as the match was concerned, Tsistsipas added: “It did not come easy to turn the match around. I had to make a lot of sacrifices.”
Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie were also in action on Day One at Flushing Meadows.
Evans, seeded 24th, found the conditions brutal as he opened the schedule on Court 10 but got through 6-3 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-1 against world number 93, Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro and will be facing American world number 64, Marcos Giron in the second round.
For Evans it was a relief following some poor recent results having suffered Covid which prevented him playing the Olympics while Norrie, seeded 26, has had a good run over recent months picking up his first ATP title, crashed out the fast-rising Spaniard, 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz Garfia 6-4 6-4 6-3.
In other action the fifth seeded Andrey Rublev put an end to Croat Ivo Karolovic’s career easing past the big man in straight sets 6-3 7-6(3) 6-3 and he wasn’t the only big server to be ousted for American number one John Isner, seeded 19, was stunned in straight sets by his 20-year-old compatriot Brandon Nakashima, 7-6(7) 7-6(6) 6-3.
Meanwhile South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, the 2017 finalist, required 49 aces to squeeze through into round two defeating Jiri Vesely in a final set breaker 7-6(1) 4-6 3-6 7-6(3) 7-6(4).
In the evening, Daniil Medvedev, the second favourite, routed Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-4 6-3 6-1 on Ashe while on Armstrong, Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut breezed past Australian Nick Kyrgios 6-3 6-4 6-0.