Murray: ‘I See No Reason Why I Can’t Have A Big Event’

Andy Murray (photo: European Open)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 18, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s been two years since Great Britain’s Andy Murray’s last ATP Tour title triumph. It came at the ATP 250 European Open in Antwerp, Belgium, in an emotional final against Stan Wawrinka. It also occurred less than a year after his hip resurfacing surgery and at the time seemed to signal a resurgence in the play of the three-time major champion.

“It was obviously a bit unexpected at the time,” Murray said Monday during a 10-minute interview via Zoom from Antwerp with international media. “I know I’d won what would be considered to be bigger tournaments but this was one of the hardest that I had to win in terms of everything I went through and had put my body through to get to that point.

“It was tough, like winning Wimbledon, there was pressure and everything. To win a tournament at this level with the metal hip, it was a long road. I have a lot of good memories from here.”

While things haven’t quite turned out the way the 34-year-old Murray had hoped since beating Wawrinka, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 – and there have been some other setbacks along the comeback trail notwithstanding his recent missing stinky shoes and wedding band escapade at Indian Wells – the former World No. 1, whose ranking has dropped to No. 172 after the points from his 2019 Antwerp title finally dropped off, has been one of hardest-working and most visible players on the ATP Tour in the past couple of months. Currently, he’s the British No. 5 behind newly-anointed British No. 1 Cameron Norrie.

Since losing a thrilling five-set, first-round match to World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas at the US Open in August, Murray has hopscotched back and forth across the Atlantic, where he’s played in four other events, including one on the lower-rung ATP Challenger Tour in Rennes, France. Since then, he’s played non-stop on the ATP Tour, competing at the Moselle Open in Metz, France, the San Diego Open in San Diego, Calif., and most recently at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, in the Southern California palm desert. He received a wild card into each main draw.

Now, after going through one of his most productive periods in recent years – as much as anything out of the desire to compete – it’s evident that Murray still loves the game, wants to improve, and has much to contribute to the sport.

This week, following a brief respite at home in Great Britain, after losing a tough third-round match to World No. 4 Alexander Zverev at Indian Wells that followed a thrilling 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 victory over #NextGenATP rising star Carlos Alcaraz, Murray has returned to Antwerp for this year’s European Open, whose main draw began Monday at the Lotto Arena. He received one of the three wild cards doled out by tournament director Dick Norman and was drawn into a packed lower-half of the 28-player field, where he will face a familiar foe in 48th-ranked American Frances Tiafoe.

The two recently met in the US Open Series at the Winston-Salem Open on an outdoor hard court surface, won by Tiafoe, 7-6 (4), 6-3. If Murray beats Tiafoe in their Tuesday evening featured match in Lotto Arena (not before 6:30 p.m. local time), he would face No. 2 seed Diego Schwartzman in the second round. Sixth seed Alex de Minaur, last year’s European Open finalist, is a possible quarterfinal opponent. Third seed Cristian Garin and No. 5 seed Reilly Opelka are also in his half of the draw. The top seed is World No. 16 Jannik Sinner.

After Murray’s loss to Zverev, he suggested that he’s not far off from being able to win a title again. He’s won six of his 10 matches since the US Open. “A few things need to change for me to do that but I don’t see a physical issue for me not to be able to do it,” he said Monday.

Tennis Tour Talk asked Murray what playing against three Top 10 players in his past 10 outings – all losses, against Zverev, Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz – has taught him and what he’s learned about his game.

I believe my tennis is there at a level where, if I get through one of those matches, once I do, there’ll be a big week soon. That’s probably what I’ve learned,” Murray said. “After the last few months, because I’ve been to compete regularly and be on the court against these guys and practice with them as well, I see no reason why I can’t have a big event provided I make some improvements and stay fit. … I beat [Nikoloz] Basilashvili earlier this year and he’s playing in the final of the Masters. I practiced with Cam Norrie loads of times and handled myself just fine.”

Murray was also asked by Tennis TourTalk to describe the challenge of transitioning from playing in the heat and humidity of the California palm desert at Indian Wells to playing indoors in Antwerp. He said: “I got here yesterday after going home for a few days to take a break. It’s pretty different, the conditions at Indian Wells are pretty extreme compared to what we get week in and week out on the Tour. That’s how I find it anyway. The time change and jet lag, you need to factor it all in and be kind of smart with your practicing and preparation.

“For me, one of the advantages I have is mentally I’m fresher than some of the players are at this stage of the season because I’ve not played that much. Obviously, I missed big parts of the year. At this stage of the season, players can get physically and mentally pretty fatigued. It’s not easy.”

Murray on Norrie: ‘He works extremely hard’

The subject of Cameron Norrie‘s capturing his first ATP Masters 1000 at Indian Wells for his sixth ATP Tour title of the season and rising to No. 15 in the ATP rankings after starting the year ranked 71st was on eveyone’s minds during Murray’s press conference.

He said: “I’d be lying if I said that I called that to be honest. However, I have spend a decent amount of time around him and practiced with him quite a lot and he works extremely hard.

“I think he’s a great example for not just British players but all tennis players to look at and go, like, if you put the effort in day in, day out and properly dedicate yourself to the sport, have an attitude like he does, it can take you a long, long way.

“It was obviously a phenomenal achievement last night, but I think maybe the season that he’s having is more impressive than that one week.

“To be honest, every week he’s winning matches, he’s played six finals, and this year he’s looking like he’s going to win more matches on the tour this year than he had in every season that he’d had beforehand combined.

“So, that shows you how much of an improvement he’s made. I knew he was good – I’ve played against and practiced with him – but to be Top 20 in the world and pushing for a spot in the Tour Finals is an incredible effort.”

Around the European Open

• With defending champion Ugo Humbert missing from the draw, this year’s European Open is headlined by #NextGenATP star Jannik Sinner of Italy, who is seeded first and already has won three ATP Tour titles (Great Ocean Road in Melbourne, Citi Open in Washington, D.C., and Sofia Open). In his Antwerp debut two years ago, the 16th-ranked Sinner came in ranked No. 119 and reached his first tour-level semifinal. Now, the 20-year-old Italian is 11th in the FedEx ATP Race to Turin standings.

• Sinner is joined by No. 2 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, No. 3 seed Cristian Garin of Chile, and No. 4 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. Each of them received first-round byes in the 28-player main draw. There are five Top 25 players in the draw, including the top four seeds plus No. 5 seed Reilly Opelka.

• Three main draw singles matches were featured on Monday evening’s order of play. Advancing to the second round were No. 65 Arthur Rinderknech of France, who defeated No. 40 Federico Delbonis of Argentina, 6-4, 6-4, and next will play No. 8 seed Dusan Lajovic. The 33rd-ranked Serbian took out 73rd-ranked wild card and 2016 champion Richard Gasquet of France, 7-6 (3), 6-1. Finally, No. 61 Botic van de Sandschulp of the Netherlands came on strong in the final set to eliminate No. 74 Alexei Popyrin of Australia, 6-4, 3-6, 6-0. Next, he will play the winner of Tuesday’s all-American tussle between No. 25 Reilly Opelka and No. 70 Jenson Brooksby.

• Singles qualifying wrapped up Monday afternoon with four matches. Advancing to the main draw were: Brandon Nakashima of the United States, who defeated Pierre-Hughes Herbert of France, 6-2, 6-4; Dennis Novak of Austria, who beat Andreas Seppi of Italy, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 7-6 (6); Jenson Brooksby of the United States, who won over Norbert Gombos of Slovakia, 6-4, 6-2; and Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland, who bested Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, 7-5, 6-1.

Monday’s European Open results

Tuesday’s European Open order of play

“Quotable …”

“She still hits the ball fantastic. The decision making will come with more matches. Physically, she can get stronger. That’s probably been one of her biggest strengths when she was at the top of the game and as successful as she was. With more time and more matches, she’ll keep getting better. It’s not easy after such a long time out of the game. She can still win matches at the highest level. She’s handled herself so well and been competitive against good players.”

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