Andy Murray loses grueling five-setter but passes big test

NEW YORK — Andy Murray was on the shuttle to practice ahead of the US Open on Thursday when he discovered he would be playing Stefanos Tsitsipas, the No. 3 seed and 2021 French Open finalist, in his first-round match at the tournament.

He knew it wouldn’t be the easiest of matches but did his best to chalk it up to a “good test” and an opportunity to gauge his current level of play against one of the best in the world.

For much of Monday’s four hour, 49-minute match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in front of an adoring crowd who showered him with “Come on, Andy!” cheers throughout, Murray aced the exam.

The 34-year-old Murray, who has been plagued with hip injuries since 2017 and required a hip resurfacing procedure in 2019, entered the match ranked No. 112 and having played singles in just six ATP singles this season. He lost in the second round in both events ahead of the US Open at Cincinnati and Winston-Salem.

Despite all that, Murray was in vintage form at the match’s start and he rolled to take the first set 6-2. He hit nine winners and ran all over the court — winning five of his six net points and chasing down drop shots. He pumped his fists and, for a moment anyway, reminded the tennis world why he had once been part of the “Big Four,” with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Murray, the 2012 US Open champion and three-time major winner, hadn’t recorded a victory over a top-10 opponent at a Grand Slam since 2017, but even when Tsitsipas raised his level in the second set, Murray found a way to raise his, too. The two needed a tiebreak for the second, and Murray had two chances to take a two-set lead but couldn’t convert.

But even with an even score and his clothes and lone pair of sneakers dripping with sweat — he inserted the on-court air hose next to his seat directly into his shoes during the break between the second and third sets in a made-for-Twitter attempt to dry them — Murray’s momentum wasn’t slowed. He took the next three games, and quickly won the third set.

“I’m not f—ing done,” he yelled to the crowd, as if addressing everyone who had doubted his ability to return from his years of setbacks. “Let’s go!”

The crowd roared back at him. It felt as if something special was brewing and like Murray had found a way to turn back the clock to a time when he was the dominant player in Queens.

In the end, despite being heartbreakingly close, Murray couldn’t quite close out the match and lost 2-6, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Murray was furious over Tsitsipas’ use of a medical timeout after the third set for a left foot injury and later for a lengthy bathroom break — both of which Murray said gave Tsitsipas an unfair advantage — and said it had an impact.

“It’s just disappointing because I feel it influenced the outcome of the match,” Murray told the media after the match. “I’m not saying I necessarily win that match, for sure, but it had influence on what was happening after those breaks.”

It’s impossible to know if the match could have gone differently had Tsitsipas not taken either of those breaks, and in the end the 23-year-old Tsitsipas was simply the better player who found a way to win.

Ever the fighter, while Murray saw some positives, he was not willingly to accept a moral victory and remained convinced he was capable of playing better against the game’s most elite competitors.

“I’ve said it a lot over this last few months, I know I’m capable of playing that tennis,” Murray said. “I need to spend time on the court, getting the chance to play against these guys, ultimately when I get on the court with them, [I] need to prove it. I guess tonight I proved some things to a certain extent.

“Overall I did well tonight, but I’m really, really disappointed, really disappointed after that, frustrated, all those things. Really disappointed.”

Murray was one of three former US Open champions in the men’s draw, along with Djokovic and Marin Cilic. After Monday, it will be just Djokovic, Murray’s longtime friend and onetime rival, in the hunt for a title while Murray will be forced to wonder “what if” yet again.

Murray said he didn’t know how he would fare if he had to play a second-round match on Wednesday after such a grueling marathon match — but he was upset that he won’t be able to find out.

“Physically I felt pretty good on the court in terms of, like, my body lasted pretty well,” Murray said. “I was chasing balls down right until the end. Yeah, obviously I have no idea how I’m going to feel tomorrow yet. I would imagine I’ll be pretty sore afterwards…

“Maybe in two days my body feels okay. But if I had to go and play five hours again, or three hours in the heat, maybe my legs would be fatigued. But I don’t get the opportunity to find that out now.”

There was no talk Monday night about the future or what’s next, but for the first time in a long time, there didn’t need to be. It seemed all but certain Murray still believes he has a lot of tennis left to play and can still compete at the highest level. He had passed the test.

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