Andy Murray: A Long Way Short But, Hopefully, Pain Free After His Return To Singles

CINCINNATI, August 13, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Two-time Western & Southern Open champion Andy Murray of Great Britain returned to singles action Monday. As he walked out on Center Court, Murray even filmed the arrival with his smartphone. It was a nice, light moment that the Scotsman will savor for the ages.

Soon, things got very serious.

After two months of playing doubles only, Murray, the former World No. 1, played his first singles competition in 210 days – since the Australian Open in January – following hip resurfacing surgery. While there was no expectation that the three-time Grand Slam champion would immediately return to his former greatness in this ATP Masters 1000 event, many who watched hoped that, somehow, the 32-year-old Murray would show glimpses of his former greatness. It didn’t happen, but he still acquitted himself in defeat despite his gingerly movement and propensity to play it safe with his shot selection.

The No. 324 Murray, who received a wild card into the 56-player main draw, lost to former Top 10 player Richard Gasquet of France, currently ranked 56th, 6-4, 6-4, in a featured late-afternoon match on Center Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason, Ohio.

“I think I did okay. I think there were a lot of things I would like to have done better in the match, but you also have to be somewhat realistic, in terms of what you can expect,” Murray said during his news conference, quoted by the ATP Tour website.

Like Murray, Gasquet has been recovering from a groin injury that required surgery, which sidelined him from just before the Australian Open to the Masters 1000 in Madrid. Since then, Gasquet has reached the semifinals in s-Hertogenbosch and quarterfinals at Bastad, and week by week, is regaining his touch and his ability to mix drop shots with solid groundstroke returns to both wings.

“(Richard) uses all of the angles on the court. He’s one of the best at doing that,” Murray said. “So I was having to move quite a lot laterally, and I didn’t move forward particularly well. Like when he drop shotted, there was a few times I didn’t even run to the ball, didn’t react to it, and that’s nothing to do with my hip. That’s just me not running for a ball, which I did do better at the end of the match.”

While Murray carried an 8-2 lifetime win-loss record against Gasquet into Monday’s match, their first meeting since 2016 Roland Garros, the best thing that can be said is Murray tried. Monday’s match lasted one hour and 37 minutes.

According to Gasquet, quoted by the ATP Tour website, “In the second set, he started to play better. We did great games. He was playing very good and 2-0 to 5-4 in the second set, he played much better, started to return well.

“It was tough for me, four and four. He could break me many times in the second set. So even with this, he’s still a great competitor. That’s why you’re still scared when you face him. I know it’s still Andy Murray.”

Looking back, there were more positives than negatives and Murray’s footwork came around even if all of his shots weren’t there against Gasquet, who broke the Scot twice in the opening set. The Frenchman pushed Murray around the court – outpointing him 68-56 – and proved the perfect first opponent. Going forward for Murray, it’s all about process.

“I think the winning and losing should be the least important thing,” said Tennis Channel’s Chanda Rubin, during her post-match analysis of Murray. “The most important was getting back out on the court in singles. How would he feel during the match? Would he be able to get through the match? He’s a great competitor and a great champion. He got better on his serve and return. Those instinctive moves become important.  He improved as the match wore on. Now, how will he recover?”

After the match, Murray said he would not play singles at the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 26. However, he plans to play doubles and mixed doubles in the final Grand Slam of the year. He said he’s not yet ready for five-set matches, but could possibly play in the Winston-Salem Open next week.

“We were hoping to maybe hold a wild card until a little bit closer to the time to see how I feel and get some matches hopefully and a bit of practice,” Murray said. “(It was) a decision I made with my team. I didn’t want to take a wild card today because I just didn’t know how I was going to feel after a match. I felt like I wanted to be fair for me to maybe try and get a couple of matches in before making a decision like that.”

Murray later clarified his decision not to play singles at the U.S. Open. He said, “If I would have taken the wild card and then not played, then I would have been getting loads of questions about my hip and, ‘Why has he turned it down? Is something wrong? What’s the problem?’ It was more likely that I was not going to (play), because although I did fine in the match today, physically, my legs felt quite heavy at the end of the match, and that’s probably not going to change a whole lot in a couple of weeks.”

Later this week, Murray will play doubles with Spaniard Feliciano Lopez with whom he won a title at London’s Queen’s Club in June.

Kecmanovic wins Next Gen battle with Auger-Aliassime

One of the best first-round matches Monday took place on the Grandstand between a pair of 19-year-old #NextGenATP stars, No. 21 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and 58th-ranked qualifier Miomir Kecmanovic from Serbia.

Auger-Aliassime, who turned 19 at the Rogers Cup last week and is the youngest player in the Top 100, has reached three finals this season, while Kecmanovic is in seventh place in the ATP Singles Race to Milan, thanks to a quarterfinal finish at Indian Wells in March and by reaching the finals at Antalya earlier this summer.

Kecmanovic, the second youngest in the Top 100, pulled off the first upset of the tournament when he beat Auger-Aliassime, 6-3, 6-3, in just 63 minutes by taking advantage of 10 double faults by the young Canadian. Kecmanovic didn’t face a break point the entire match and lost just three first-serve points. He broke Auger-Aliassime three times in four opportunities and outpointed him 56-39. Next, Kecmanovic faces World No. 6 and seventh seed Alexander Zverev of Germany on Wednesday.

“It definitely means a lot. It’s a big win for me,” Kecmanovic told the ATP Tour website. “I needed this mentally just to know that I can be here and play with these guys, so I think it’s going to help for the upcoming matches.

“I felt pretty good on the court and played solid, so hopefully I can keep it up.”

One year ago at this time, the Serbian qualifier was ranked No. 200. Now, he’s on the verge of cracking the Top 50 for the first time.

Nadal out at Cincinnati

To no one’s surprise, 2013 Cincinnati champion Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Western & Southern Open citing fatigue. Nadal made the announcement Sunday night soon after winning the Rogers Cup in Montreal over Daniil Medvedev. It is the second straight year that Nadal has pulled out of the Cincinnati event after winning the Rogers Cup.

Since the seeds won’t reshuffle, filling out Nadal’s slot in the bottom half of the draw will be lucky loser Mikhail Kukushkin. The upper half of the draw is top heavy with both No.1 seed Novak Djokovic and  No. 3 seed Roger Federer in the mix.

Around the Cincinnati Masters

• No. 14 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, one of five former Western & Southern Open champions in this year’s field, lost in the first round to Radu Albot, 6-4, 7-6 (6). The No. 39 from Moldova saved six set points in the second set, including two in the tie-break, before advancing over the 2016 champion.

• Washington champion Nick Kyrgios, whose ranking has shot up to No. 27, rebounded from a first-round loss at the Rogers Cup last week and advanced over No. 47 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, 7-5, 6-4, by winning points on all but two of his first serves (29 of 31) and losing just eight points (46 of 54) on his serve overall. He faced no break points from the Antalya champion Sonego. Earlier, Kyrgios was a guest in Andy Murray’s box during the Scot’s first singles match back on the ATP Tour since hip resurfacing surgery last January.

• Other Monday winners included: wild cards Sam Querrey and Juan Ignacio Londero; Lucas Pouille, Jan-Lennard Struff, and Adrian Mannarino; and qualifiers Yoshihito Nishioka and Pablo Carreño Busta.

By the numbers

• Radu Albot, who now has 19 wins on hard courts this season, is tied with Gaël Monfils for third-most. Leading the ATP standings is Daniil Medvedev with 25 (he’s 25-8 on hard courts), followed by Stefanos Tsitsipas with 20, then Albot and Monfils.

• No. 22 Guido Pella of Argentina claimed his 100th tour-level win with a 7-5, 7-6 (4) first-round victory over 54th-ranked Norwegian Casper Rudd.

• On the rise: Six players in the Cincinnati Masters field have achieved career-high rankings – No. 8 Daniil Medvedev, No. 11 Roberto Bautista Agut, No. 40 Hubert Hurkacz, No. 42 Reilly Opelka, No. 54 Casper Rudd, and No. 55 Juan Ignacio Londero.

What they’re tweeting

David Law, co-host of The Tennis Podcast, after Andy Murray’s 6-4, 6-4 loss to Richard Gasquet: “That’ll do for Murray, I would think. He knows where he is now. A long way short but hopefully pain free. He had to start somewhere, and he’s started.”