The ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, an ATP 500 event, got underway on Monday with a schedule of just four singles matches, two of which involved British players.
I kept fighting and this is really a mental victory. My tennis definitely needs to improve. Fortunately, I have a day off to recover from this tough match and prepare for the second round. Andy Murray
The day’s session opened with Cameron Norrie, fresh from successfully negotiating the qualifying tournament, taking on the powerful Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili, at 40 ranked 25 places higher than the British No.3, and completely outplaying him over the 63-minute first round contest.
Within 20-minutes of the start, Norrie had pocketed the first set without dropping a game and while Basilashvili, no doubt stunned at being handed a bagel, struck back to break for a 3-1 in the second.
Unfazed, Norrie responded with a run of five consecutive games from 2-3 to pocket a 6-0 6-3 victory and progress to a second-round meeting against either Stan Wawrinka, the eighth seed and the 2015 champion, or another powerfully built player, Karen Khachanov of Russia.
But the main interest focused on Andy Murray who opened the evening session against Robin Haase of The Netherlands, and unlike his compatriot, had to work hard to eventually also progress into the second round.
Both the 33-year-olds appeared in the draw thanks to wildcards with Murray still struggling to get a foothold on the main tour having been beaten last week in the opening round of the Montpellier 250 tournament.
For awhile it looked as if the three-time grand slam champion’s fortunes weren’t going to change as within 34-minutes he saw the first set disappear having been broken twice.
In a closely fought second set, Murray’s fighting qualities came to the fore as he hung on saving two break points in the seventh game of the second set to force a tiebreaker where he held his nerve to finally level the match.
His fans no doubt feared the worst when he again fell behind 3-0 after losing his opening service game as his fitness was now being questioned but they shouldn’t have worried as he came storming back to reel off the last six games to seal, after two-and-a-half hours, a memorable and very satisfying 2-6 7-5(2) 6-3 victory, his first in the top-tier since last year’s US Open.
Murray, whose name proudly appears on the court with all former champions having himself won the title in 2009, was forced to miss the Australian Open after being tested positive for Covid-19 in January, to get some matches under his belt, competed instead at a Challenger event in northern Italy where he lost in the final.
“I didn’t feel the ball right,” Murray, currently ranked 123, admitted following his win.
“I kept fighting and this is really a mental victory. My tennis definitely needs to improve. Fortunately, I have a day off to recover from this tough match and prepare for the second round.”
And that could be a tough one as he is expected to face the fourth seed from Russia, Andrei Rubelev who s playing American qualifier Marcos Giron in his opening match on Tuesday.
“I found a way and actually at the end started to play a bit better. From the mental side and the physical side was positive. I thought I moved pretty well,” Murray added. “I played for two-and-a-half hours and my hips and groin and stuff felt good, so that was positive. But from a tennis side it was average at best.”
On the match itself he continued: “I think from the mental side, I did really well to win because I was really struggling with my game for probably about an hour-and -a-half of that match. I haven’t really felt like that many times in my career.
“I was mistiming the ball, it was very strange. I didn’t quite know what to do out there and then when I sort of did feel I was making the right decisions, I was just mistiming the ball. It wasn’t coming off my racquet like usual.”
On the other side of the net, Haase, who has slipped to world number 193 after his own injury problems, rued his missed chances.
“It is a pity that I was not able to finish it in two sets,” the Dutchman said. “Murray remains a player who is never beaten until the final point. I have respect for Andy, because I know how hard it is to come back from an injury.”
In other first day action at the Rotterdam Ahoy arena, Kei Nishikori – another player struggling to get back to winning ways after injury time off – broke a four-match losing streak when he beat last year’s finalist and this year’s seventh seed, Felix Auger Aliassime 7-6(4) 6-1 after 90-minutes of play.
Unfortunately, the 19-year-old Canadian suffered some form of injury which required treatment after the first game of the second set which then clearly hampered his movement for the rest of the match.
“It was a very tight game, he was serving great especially in the first set and he won a lot on first serve,” said the 31-year-old Japanese currently ranked 45.
Nishikori awaits the result of two Australians, John Millman and Alex de Minaur, for his next opponent in the round of 16.
“My tennis is coming back,” a happy Nishikori said.
“I’m really happy, not only with the win but with how I’m getting back my old form. I can say this is the best game I’ve played (since my comeback from right elbow surgery last year),” he added.
Responding to a question on his retirement, he said: “I’m not there yet. I’m 31 but I don’t consider myself old. I don’t feel greater fatigue compared to my 20s. I want to play for a couple more years.”
The day’s schedule was brought to an end when qualifier Marton Fucsovics defeated Reilly Opelka of the US in three tiebreak sets.
The two exchanged blows for two-hours-and-54-minutes with Opelka out-acing Fuksovics 17 to 9 but, despite his heavier weaponry, lost out 7-6(2) 6-7(4) 7-6(4). They matched each other in breaks at one apiece, but the Hungarian had 7 break chances to the Americans 2.
Fucsovics next opponent will be one of two Spaniards, either Alejandro Davidovic Fokina or the fifth seed Roberto Bautista Aguta who face each other on Tuesday.