Andy Murray pushed hard in victorious US Open comeback

The Scot went through four sets with Hames Duckworth after missing four grand slams

Andy Murray celebrates his victory in his men’s singles first round match against James Duckworth of Australia on day one of the 2018 US Open. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Andy Murray celebrates his victory in his men’s singles first round match against James Duckworth of Australia on day one of the 2018 US Open. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

 

The last time Andy Murray played more than three sets in one match he moved over the Centre Court grass at Wimbledon like Hercules – Harold Steptoe’s horse, not the Roman god. On the hardcourt of Louis Armstrong Stadium on Monday the former US Open champion was more spritely than that hobbling beast and rekindled a smattering of his best moments on day one of the 50th edition of the tournament to eke out a tough 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 win over James Duckworth.

“It was tricky, especially early on,” Murray said. “James served big and played a lot of drop shots. I played some good stuff at times. I changed on the return game, standing a bit further back, and got into the rallies a bit more. I’ve struggled on this court but it’s a little bit more sheltered and the sun went behind the roof in the end. I’m very happy to be back.”

On this showing – admittedly a ludicrously small sample from which to make a considered judgment – Murray can be competitive in the short to medium term at a lower level in best-of-five matches; whether he can regularly reach the levels of stamina and zip that delivered him three major titles and drove his peers to distraction, it is too early to say. The test for him here – in heat forecast to be near to 100 degrees for most of the week – is to recover in time for the second round on Wednesday.

It was his concern about playing back-to-back five-setters that persuaded him to pull out at the last minute a year ago, as well as resorting to surgery on his hip just before the Australian Open, then postpone his comeback on the eve of Wimbledon in the summer.

Murray’s shot-making and all-round game are in excellent order and his desire is clearly as strong as ever. However, he faces a stiffer challenge in round two against Fernando Verdasco who beat his Spanish compatriot Feliciano Lopez, 6-2, 7-5, 6-4. Murray has won 13 of their 14 matches, most recently in Dubai last year.

The hot, still air in the revamped Armstrong stadium was stifling – even for those watching. But Murray’s draining months of rehabilitation after that surgery paid a dividend against an opponent five years younger than him at 26. Duckworth is ranked 448 in the world, having endured his own hospital log of operations from his elbow to his feet, played way above that here.

He wasted two break points in the third game and Murray reciprocated two games later, cementing a stuttering pattern of lost opportunities. Murray had two set points in the 12th game and again failed to cash in; a couple of poor mistakes in the tie-break cost him the set, and his resolve would be properly examined in the rest of the match.

He finally got the break to lift his spirits at the fourth attempt and powered on to level at a set apiece. Moving with his old enthusiasm, he fashioned a set point and forced a tired backhand out of Duckworth to take the third. Broken at the start of the fourth, Murray had to dig deep again to tame an opponent plainly relishing the challenge and the atmosphere.

After breaking back Murray put quality pressure on his opponent to break again for a 4-2 lead and wrapped it up in style. The way he hunted down a drop shot to get to match point was as revealing as anything he did during the entire three hours and 17 minutes.

While Murray was reviving flickering memories of his past after 412 days away from the major championships, the British No1, Kyle Edmund, was succumbing to cramp and a lingering non-specific illness on Court 13 against Paolo Lorenzi. The Italian found enough in his 36-year-old bones to win 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-1 in three hours and 12 minutes and, while Edmund showed admirable pluck to finish, he was swinging from memory for the last hour of it.

Lorenzi, ranked 94 in the world but owner of a crafty game (and the most disarming, pasted-on grin in tennis), was having his first match on hardcourt since he blew a two-set lead against Dami Dzumhur in the first round in Melbourne. But he rediscovered his liking for the surface when Edmund’s rhythm and power deserted him in the second set, and the 16th seed looked furious with himself when he planted a closing forehand beyond the baseline.

They swapped breaks midway through the third as Edmund fought for parity against a player he should have been ushering out of the tournament. Another over-cooked forehand put him a set down. There is no quit in him, though, and it took Lorenzi nearly 10 minutes to serve out the third game before going on to seal the upset with his 21st ace.

Edmund said later he would have to “wait and see” if he was fit enough to play in Great Britain’s Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan, which begins in Glasgow in three weeks. And whether or not Murray resumes service for his country in the city of his birth is similarly up in the air. – Guardian service

Nadal through in unfortunate cirumstances

Meanwhile, defending champion Rafael Nadal reached the second round in unfortunate circumstances with opponent David Ferrer forced to retire during his final grand slam match.

The 36-year-old, one of the outstanding players of this era, is renowned as a warrior and had never pulled the plug midway through a contest in 207 previous grand slam matches.

Nadal serves during his first round match against David Ferrer. Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images
Nadal serves during his first round match against David Ferrer. Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images

He was a break up on Nadal at 4-3 in the second set having lost the opener 6-3 in steamy conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium but was clearly struggling with a left calf injury and decided he could no longer continue.

Ferrer plans to retire at an event in Spain next season, and he told the crowd: “It was pain. I tried to play but I think it (his calf muscle) is broken. I have really good memories here. This is my last grand slam. I’m so sorry because I can’t finish the match. I will miss you a lot.”

Nadal moves through to a second-round clash with Canada’s Vasek Pospisil while Stan Wawrinka is also on an eight-match winning streak at Flushing Meadows after defeating Grigor Dimitrov for the second successive slam.

The Swiss won his third slam title here two years ago but was unable to defend it after undergoing knee surgery from which he has struggled to recover.

Having returned to the tour at the Australian Open, it is only in the last month or two that Wawrinka has started to look anything like his old self, a sequence that began with a shock victory over Dimitrov at Wimbledon.

Their respective form since them made this far less of an upset, although Dimitrov was the eighth seed while Wawrinka is still ranked just outside the top 100.

After his 6-3 6-2 7-5 victory, the 33-year-old said: “There is a lot of question marks of how my body will be right, how mentally I will be right. A few weeks ago I was still struggling a lot.

“I’m improving tournament after tournament, match after match. And I can see that the last tournaments, it went really high, from struggling in the match to competing at a really high level. So I’m really happy with that.”

One of the most eagerly-anticipated matches of the day was between Canadian teenagers Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Shapovalov, 19, burst on to the scene last summer but for 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime this was his first taste of the big time after coming through qualifying.

Sadly for the younger man, he was forced to retire in tears in the third set after experiencing heart palpitations in the hot and humid conditions.

The pair are best friends, and Shapovalov consoled his compatriot before saying: “It’s actually really tough to see him going out like this. I told him at the net we’re going to be back here, we’re going to play so many of these.”

Man of the moment Stefanos Tsitsipas won his first main-draw match at Flushing Meadows, beating veteran qualifier Tommy Robredo 6-3 7-6 (7/1) 6-4, while there was an emphatic 6-0 6-3 6-4 victory over Donald Young for third seed Juan Martin del Potro.

Last year’s runner-up Kevin Anderson was in deep trouble at two sets to one down to American Ryan Harrison and struggling with cramp but recovered to win 7-6 (7/4) 5-7 4-6 6-3 6-4.

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