Epic Comeback: Where There Is A Murray, There Is A Way

WASHINGTON, September 2, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Twenty months since his last Grand Slam appearance and two hip surgeries later, Andy Murray was down two sets to love in his first-round match against Yoshihito Nishioka on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open Tuesday afternoon. He was down match point. He was down a break in the decider. And yet, the unseeded but future Hall of Famer Murray still won. As one British tennis writer wrote on Twitter, “So bloody gutsy.”

A look back, Murray, 33, basically re-wrote his match against Robert Bautista Agut at the 2019 Australian Open, but this time gave it a happy ending. It was a truly remarkable performance that earned him a 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over the 49th-ranked Nishioka from Japan in four hours and 39 minutes.

By the end of the match, Murray had served 14 aces, and hit 59 winners to 77 unforced errors and was ahead on points, 179-176. It was that close.

Next, the 115th-ranked Murray, who is competing in this year’s US Open on a wild card, will face No. 15 seed Next-Gen star Felix Auger-Aliassime, 20, of Canada, who won a near-four hour thriller over No. 82 Thiago Monteiro, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (6), 7-6 (6).

During his post-match virtual press conference, Murray was asked if he was able to appreciate at all in the moment or after the match, after being way so much time from Grand Slam action, the effort that he put into his match against Nishioka.

Yeah, I mean, I think it was pretty emotional straight after the match finished,” he opined. “Yeah, when I got back to the locker room, sort of look at my phone, see the messages from family and friends, the team and stuff. They’re the people that have kind of seen me go through everything, been there, seen the tough times. I don’t know how many of us actually believed I’d be back kind of winning matches like that.

“So, yeah, it was emotional after the match finished, for sure. It’s more like, yeah, when you read the messages from your family and friends and stuff, yeah, that’s kind of when you feel it.

“Well, I don’t know. I don’t know why that is, but you do, or I do anyway. Today’s win meant a lot. Like I said, a lot’s gone into it.”

Then, Murray was asked at what stage during his five-set epic comeback did he really feel like he could turn defeat into victory.

“Probably once I’d won the third set really,” he said. “I was just starting to play a little bit better. I wasn’t feeling as under pressure on my serve. Yeah, just felt like, not that I was controlling all the points, I just felt like I was a little bit more in control of more points and was starting to understand the way I had to play to maybe win the match, which at the beginning I didn’t.

“Very tricky game. He’s a very good player. Looking at his results, he’s beaten some very good players on hard courts. He’s also lost in tight matches to some very good players, as well. I knew it was going to be hard. …

“I kind of felt mentally I didn’t know how I was going to feel if I played a long one, so I didn’t want to use up too much energy. When you do that, maybe you don’t move as well, don’t play the right shots, and the match becomes much longer. So, it’s completely counterproductive. I think psychologically it can happen when you’ve not played one for a long time.”

After the match, Murray was in search of an ice bath, which he finally received after leaving the court and before doing his press conference. At his age, they seem imperative to ease the aches and pains. After all, Murray is playing with a metal hip, which has given him a new lease on his playing career. Last week, Murray beat Frances Tiafoe and Alexander Zverev in back-to-back three setters before losing to Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-2.

“I guess that was the thing I was most happy with, that I lasted. It was humid today, not that hot. Obviously, a long match. I did pretty well physically. Yeah, I guess that was probably my biggest doubt going in and the biggest answer I got from the match today, was physically that I was good. Tennis-wise I could do better.”

Serena: Most US Open wins in Open Era surpasses Evert

As No. 3 seed Serena Williams has her eyes fixed on the prize of claiming an elusive 24th major singles title, she moved one step closer to achieving her goal with her 7-5, 6-3 win over American Kristie Ahn to move into the second round. With her victory, Williams moved ahead of Chris Evert for most US Open wins during the Open Era with 102. She’s also tied with Evert for most US Open championships with six.

The 38-year-old Williams hadn’t won a straight-set match since January and none since returning to the WTA Tour last month. With her one hour and 21-minute win over Ahn secured, Williams seemed relieved.

“I was really happy with how I fought for every point, no matter how I was playing. I just had to get my ‘Serena’ focus back,” Williams said, sharing a laugh. “But I felt really good throughout the match, I just kept telling myself that I needed to be Serena and close it out. I was able to do that and I’m happy to move on.”

Williams served 13 aces and hit 28 winners. She won 85 percent of her first-serve points and converted four of her six break-point opportunities.

During her virtual post-match press conference, Williams was asked what she considered most important about this year’s US Open taking place. She said:

“I think what’s most important about this event taking place is just the spirit. Sport has been gone for so long, particularly tennis. We missed two Grand Slams. The US Open is the first major tennis event since Australian Open. The morale can be really low in the world with everything that’s going on. Sometimes you just want to take your mind off. People have been doing that for generations through sport.

“That’s one of the reasons I was so supportive of the US Open. I felt like it was such a good time to get back out there for athletes and for fans to kind of just disconnect and be a fan, and for athletes to do what they do best.”

First first-round loss in 22 US Open appearances for Venus

Twenty-sixth-ranked Karolina Muchova, just 24, rolled past former No. 1 Venus Williams, 6-3, 7-5, in the featured night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Williams was attempting to become just the third women 40 or older to win a US Open match, but it wasn’t meant to be on this Tuesday evening. It was the first time in her record-setting 22nd US Open appearance that Williams had lost in the first round. It was also the fourth time in the past five Grand Slam tournaments that Venus has bowed in her opening match.

“I just ran out of time today,” said Venus.

The 24-year-old Czech was anything but intimated by the future Hall of Famer. Muchova hit 27 winners to 22 unforced errors and Williams finished with 33 unforced errors to only 18 winners.

“I just tried to stay focused and just hold my serve,” said Muchova, who saved six of eight break points and rebounded from down 3-5 in the second set to pull out the win in one hour and 48 minutes. “I just tried from the start to be more relaxed. I’m starting to gain my confidence again and feel my shots.”

After the match, Muchova greeted her friend Rebel Wilson, the Pitch Perfect star, via an online chat on court – one of many innovations that are accenting this year’s fanless US Open.

Suárez Navarro diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma 

Around the US Open

Three-time US Open champion Kim Clijsters made her return to the US Open against 21st ranked Ekaterina Alexandrova, the Russian No. 1. Tucked away as the last match on Court 17, the third-largest show court being used this year, Clijsters jumped out early to earn the first set 6-3 before Alexandrova rebounded in second set 7-5. However, the third set was all Alexandrova’s and she won the one hour and 45-minute battle, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1, to move on to the next round.

“She’s a living legend, so beating her means so much to me,” said Alexandrova during an on-court interview.

No regrets for Clijsters, who was appearing in her 10th US Open.

Already inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, Clijsters received a wild card entry into this year’s US Open draw. She said of her decision to un-retire for the second time: “It’s more a drive within me, where I know where I want to get to. And that’s what has been the motivation for this, because I feel like I can still play some really good tennis. That’s what gave me the push to go for it. If I didn’t have that confidence that I could still play good tennis, then I would have never started this. I know I still have good tennis left in me.”

Tuesday’s results

Wednesday’s order of play