Andy Murray produced his biggest win since undergoing a second hip surgery, by recovering from 4-5 down in the final set against world No 7 Alexander Zverev to reach the third round of the Western & Southern Open. The turbulent 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win marked the Scot’s first top-10 victory since he beat Kei Nishikori in the quarter-final of the 2017 French Open and his best since he triumphed over Novak Djokovic in the 2016 World Tour Finals.
After a scrappy first-round win over Frances Tiafoe, Murray had pointed out that his expectations in New York were zero. All players are simultaneously returning from a long period of inactivity at the same time, but Murray had not competed since November 2019 and spent much of the past 10 months away from the court as he focused on strengthening his hip. For Murray, the most important part of these matches is learning about how his body reacts to another return to top level competition.
The answer came swiftly on Monday. A few minutes into just the second match Murray has played against a top-10 player in three years, Zverev sought to probe his opponent’s metal hip by throwing in an early dropshot. Murray reacted instantly and chased the ball down with ease, flicking a deft forehand past Zverev and demonstrating beyond doubt how he can still tear across the court at will.
Murray’s revival over the past 12 months has been a reminder of how competitive he is and how he inevitably rises against the best players. Murray broke early at 2-1, and from the very beginning he moved around the court with ease and dictated where he could. The greatest measure of Murray’s confidence was how he dealt with Zverev’s fragile second serve, taking an enormous split step forward to meet the ball a few inches from the service line.
The complexion of the match changed early in the second set as Zverev cut out his loose forehand errors and began to dominate behind his first serve, finishing the set having won 14 of his 15 first serve points. As Zverev thrived, Murray began to fatigue and to feel the match in his legs. As his groundstrokes slowed and his second serve turned to dust, Zverev levelled the match.
In the final set, Murray appeared shaky at first, facing break point at 1-1. However, he saved with a big serve and a backhand winner down the T, his roar that followed echoing across the empty Grandstand stadium. He took solace from his second, breaking in the following game with three excellent returns, sealed with a wicked crosscourt backhand return winner from almost on top of the service line.
It has been 10 months since Murray last competed and many more since he was truly match tough, and he could not hold on to the 4-1 lead he had built. As Zverev raced back to 5-4 with four games in a row, Murray seemed to be moments from defeat.
Yet in the end, it was the top 10 player who froze. At 5-4 deuce, Zverev threw in two slapstick double faults that missed the service line by feet. After a quick hold from Murray, Zverev opened the service game with two more double faults. Murray needed no further opportunities, snatching the break to take a further step forward with a memorable win.
“It was a big one to get through,” said Murray. “I think, if I’d lost a match from being 4-1 up in the third and having opportunities… it would have been a tough one to lose.”
Murray will face Milos Raonic in the third round, who thoroughly outplayed Dan Evans 6-3, 7-5 earlier on Monday. Evans has proven this year that his game can consistently match up well against some of the best players, but strong performances on the biggest stages have remained elusive. Despite sitting at a career high of 28, Evans has reached the fourth round of just one slam in his career, the Australian Open in 2017. His Masters 1000 record now stands at 4-10 having never won consecutive matches at the highest category of ATP tournaments.
In the women’s draw, British No1 Johanna Konta had few problems in securing her first win since the tour’s suspension by beating Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium 6-2, 6-0 in 63 minutes. After suffering from heart palpitations in her defeat to Marie Bouzkova at the Top Seed Open, then enduring the long drive between Lexington and Long Island, New York, she has united with her new coach, Thomas Hogsteadt, for their first official tournaments together in New York. As the eighth seed in the bubble, there could be many opportunities ahead if she quickly finds her form.