WASHINGTON, October 21 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Watching Andy Murray come back from a set and a break down against Stan Wawrinka to win the European Open on Sunday for his 46th ATP singles title – and first in almost three years – was just like the good old days. After the last ball was struck inside packed Lotto Arena, Murray sobbed in victory. He’d just triumphed 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 over Wawrinka, his longtime foe and contemporary.
As Murray and Wawrinka walked off the court arm in arm following their 20th career head-to-head battle (Murray leads the lifetime head-to-head 12-8), it was plainly evident that everything between them was good.
“The last few years have been very difficult for me, so this title means a lot,” an emotional Murray said during the trophy ceremony. The Scot’s last title came in Dubai back in March of 2017, when he was ranked World No. 1. “It was a fantastic final and Stan played incredible tennis today. I knew what to expect as we’ve played each other a lot of times. I’ve had a fantastic week here and I’d like to thank the crowd for coming out so numerous to the Lotto Arena.”
Despite losing, Wawrinka can point to his last two finishes, reaching the quarterfinals at the US Open last month plus the final at Antwerp, as positive signs that he’s regaining his old form. And, while still searching for his first title since undergoing double knee surgery in August of 2017, the Swiss No. 2 was complimentary in tone as he congratulated Murray. “It was a very tough match, but I’m happy for Andy,” he said. “It’s nice to see him back. Of course I’m disappointed, but I’m also very satisfied with my week, thanks to a fantastic organization and a very nice audience.”
Meanwhile, witnessing Murray celebrate his first tournament title since returning from hip surgery with a big smile on his face – plus lifting the distinctive (and headless) European Open trophy – provided everyone with an inspiring moment in a weekend filled with positives throughout the tennis world.
After Murray’s triumph in Antwerp, it prompted Hall of Fame great Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) to tweet:
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) October 21, 2019
Murray’s comeback trail has received a lot of press attention – much if not all of it positive. Among the tennis writers who has watched Murray closely and written extensively about him, Simon Briggs of London’s Daily Telegraph described Sunday’s mood perfectly when he wrote:
“Perhaps they will make a movie of it one day. The working title could be ‘Miracle in Schijnpoortweg’. Because that’s the unprepossessing suburb of Antwerp where Andy Murray sealed his 46th – and arguably most remarkable – ATP title.”
Murray never out of the game
Maybe, the tearful, moving “Farewell Andy” retirement send off that Murray received last January in Melbourne before he went under the knife and came out of hip refraction surgery feeling like a brand new player was a bit premature. First, Murray returned in time for the grass season to test his right hip by playing doubles, teamed with Feliciano Lopez, and together they won Queen’s Club. Then, Murray tested his mettle by switching to singles a month later in Cincinnati and promptly lost in the first round to Richard Gasquet in straight sets. He stepped aside during the US Open, dropped down to play Challenger-level tournaments so he could get some much-needed match play, then returned to the big leagues, first in China and last week in Antwerp.
If his perfect week in the Belgian port city is any indication, stringing together five victories in a six-day period after playing just 28 tour-level matches in the past two years, Murray’s comeback has been successful. He’s playing pain-free and no longer shows agony with each serve or groundstroke return. It’s almost as if the 32-year-old native of Glasgow, Scotland, who has won three Grand Slam titles, two Olympic gold medals and a Davis Cup title, never lost his footing on the tennis court.
Remarkable comeback for Andy
Although the 34-year-old Wawrinka may have been the aggressor throughout much of Sunday’s two hour and 27 minute final – and there were times in which Murray struggled, especially in the first set – there’s no disputing that Murray hasn’t lost his sense of touch or focus. Not only did he use the net effectively by coming in on his serve against Wawrinka, his crosscourt backhand was a difference-maker, too. Twice in the decisive set, he came back from a break down and leveled the match at 3-all. One of Murray’s first serves that went for an ace – one of nine he served against the Swiss star – clocked an impressive 133 miles-per-hour. His fifth break of Wawrinka clinched the monumental victory.
Always introspective during his press conferences, lately, it’s been nice to see Murray break into a smile when addressing the media. After beating the 16-time ATP Tour titlist Wawrinka, he said, “Stan is a brilliant player. He’s won many, many big tournaments. He always plays extremely well in the big matches. We know each other’s games well. We played many tough matches in the past. I expected another one today and that was what I got. …
“I felt just a bit sore, a bit heavy in the legs. I don’t know if that showed in terms of the way that I played until the end of the second set. I was getting bullied around the court and Stan was hitting a bunch of winners.
“I kept putting returns in play and trying to get one more ball back. Stan easily could have won that match. It wasn’t like I was deserving of the win. I didn’t feel ready to win – but it happened.”
Murray contemplates family and future
By winning Antwerp, his last solo tournament of 2019, Murray’s world ranking improved to No. 127 after starting the week at No. 243. While he probably will need to use a protected ranking to secure a main draw entry in next year’s Australian Open, similar to what he did to play in the European Open this past week, things are beginning to look up for Murray. On Monday, he was named to Great Britain’s Davis Cup team for next month’s Davis Cup finals in Madrid. Plus, he and his wife Kim are expecting their third child any day now.
“We are going to have a third baby, which makes it three kids under the age of four,” Murray said during his post-match press conference. “While I’ve been off tennis for the last couple of years, my family has got bigger. So maybe I need to get back on the road.”
While Murray’s comments about family life off the court no doubt lightened the mood in the media room, he remains committed to his future on the tennis court – one that was in serious jeopardy nine months ago.
“I need to now start talking more about my future, and I am certainly a lot more optimistic now,” said Murray. “When I spoke to my team before the trip to Asia (a month ago) I was like, ‘What are the goals here?’ And I was like, I just want to be competitive. I want to feel that when I am on the court I am not getting smashed by guys.
“I wasn’t thinking ‘I am going to win tournaments’ or ‘I am going to beat guys like Stan and (World No 13 Matteo) Berrettini (whom he beat in Beijing three weeks ago).’ So this has come as a surprise to me and my team.”