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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, August 22, 2020

 
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In his first Tour-level match since November, Andy Murray fended off Frances Tiafoe 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-1 to advance to the Western & Southern Open second round.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Life in the USTA bubble has helped Andy Murray reconnect with his inner child.

Today, Murray was a man on a mission.

More: In New Normal, Expect Abnormal Results

In a Western & Southern Open clash of wild cards, Murray saved set point in the opening set fending off Frances Tiafoe 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-1 for his first win of the season.

"Physically, I thought I did pretty well," Murray said. "I moved maybe better than what I expected to. The first few matches back when I started playing singles last year, you know, I moved way worse than I did today, so that was positive.

"My tennis could have been better. I thought I could have played a bit better. You know, I guess that will come, the more matches I play. But I always need to see as well how I recover from a match like that too, because, you know, although I felt good during the match, things can sometimes stiffen up and hurt a bit afterward. I'm happy with how I did today. Would have liked to have played a bit better, but physically I was good. That is the most important thing for me, because that hasn't been the case for the last ten months."

In his first Tour-level match since the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid last November, Murray earned his first Western & Southern Open win since he stopped Milos Raonic in the 2016 semifinals before bowing to Marin Cilic in the final.




In this new normal caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, the Mason, Ohio tournament has moved to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Two-time tournament champion Murray looked fit and played a clean final set closing in two hours, 28 minutes to set up an entertaining second-round match vs. fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev. Like Murray, Zverev was previously coached by Hall of Famer Ivan Lendl.

The 129th-ranked Murray opted against renting a private house because of “astronomical” costs. Instead, the father of three said he’s had fun inside the USTA’s safety bubble staying in the player hotel and playing arcade games during his down time.

“It's nice. They've done a really good job at the hotel,” Murray said. “They've got games and arcades and things like that, which I enjoy. Still a bit of a child in that respect. They've got that.

“They're putting on, like, different food in the evenings for the players. We can get delivery. Room is absolutely fine. You have a gym there. So, yeah, it's absolutely fine.”

On a sweltering New York City afternoon, neither sweat-soaked player could crack serve in the first set staged on Grandstand, which is the Western & Southern Open's stadium court for this transplanted tournament.

Early pressure came in the sixth game. Tiafoe missed a couple of forehands to go down 15-30 before taking three points in a row to level after six games.

Deadlocked 5-all, Tiafoe nudged a drop shot then flicked a lob winner for the first break point. Murray erased it with a stinging serve to quiet the threat.

Streaming forward, Tiafoe stuck a forehand volley to force the first-set tie breaker.

A man moving near the front row in a near-barren crowd—aside from coaches Kim Clijsters was on hand watching—distracted Murray prompting a pause before he botched a 64 mph second serve into the bottom of the net handing the American the mini break and a 3-1 lead.

Down set point at 5-6, Murray jammed Tiafoe with a second serve to save it. A Tiafoe inside-out forehand strayed wide as Murray earned set point.

Running down his opponent’s volley, Murray flicked a forehand pass down the line to take the tie break.

Murray permitted just four points on first serve in the 69-minute opener.

Ninety-five minutes into the match, Murray earned his first break point and Tiafoe erased it zapping a serve winner out wide.




Throughout the first two hours of play, Tiafoe took his chances attacking the frontcourt. Tiafoe reaped the rewards with a fine stretch drop volley winner scoring the first break of the match for 5-3.

When Murray knocked a flat forehand into net, Tiafoe took the second set to force a decider at the one hour, 57-minute mark.

The 81st-ranked Tiafoe had lost 13 consecutive decisive sets entering the final set today and found himself in a deep triple-break point chasm in his opening game.

Playing prevent defense, Murray sprinted corner to corner defending with vigor in a 13-shot rally that ended with Tiafoe spraying a forehand volley. The two-time champion earned a hard-fought break and a 2-0 third-set lead.

Slashing his seventh ace, Murray navigated a love-30 deficit in holding for 4-1.

The 33-year-old Scot believes playing this week’s event will provide valuable feedback he can apply for the US Open, which begins on August 31st.

“You can't replicate matches. For me to know exactly how my body feels after playing a competitive match will be important for me,” Murray said. “If I did well and got a few matches, that would suggest my body is probably feeling quite good. If I didn't do well, my body wasn't great, it would suggest I probably need to do some work in the sort of eight, nine days before the tournament starts.

“I think it would just give me more kind of information. I'll be able to learn a little bit more about where I'm at, maybe things I need to work on, things I need to practice and stuff.”

Hopping off his right leg, Murray banged a backhand return winner down the line breaking again for 5-1. Murray served out the match at love.




Earlier, Felix Auger-Aliassime reeled off nine of the last 10 games bouncing Nikoloz Basilashvili, 6-4, 6-1.

The 15th-seeded Canadian beat Basilashvili for the third time in as many meetings raising his 2020 record to 14-9. Auger-Aliassime, who has contested two finals this season, will play either Italian Lorenzo Sonego or American wild card Tennys Sandgren next.

In a grueling comeback match after knee surgery in February, Kevin Anderson fought off Kyle Edmund 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-3. The 2017 US Open finalist’s reward for a gripping win is a second-round date vs. fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Reilly Opelka ripped 21 aces in a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Cameron Norrie. Opelka, who won his first career title at the 2019 New York Open, will play either ninth-seeded Diego Schwartzman or Casper Ruud in round two.

Big-serving German Jan-Lennard Struff stopped Alex de Minaur 6-2, 6-4—his first win in three meetings with the Aussie. Struff awaits either 12th-seeded Denis Shapovalov or 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic next.


 

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