For much of this most challenging period of Andy Murray’s career, as he has faced trials that would not have been encountered with younger legs and a more functional hip, he has continually explained what still drives him each day. He is adamant that there is something left for him in his sport, even if he is not exactly sure how far he can go. He believes the evidence is there, laid out in his numerous strong performances against top players over the past year.
A decade on from his maiden grand slam win on these grounds he pieced together another strong result. Murray played a clean, disciplined match, neutralising the No 24 seed, Francisco Cerúndolo, and his nuclear forehand in the suffocating New York humidity to reach the second round of the US Open with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 win. The victory marks Murray’s first straight-sets grand slam win since Wimbledon 2017, when he was ranked No 1.
“It felt like five sets to me,” he said afterwards, laughing. “Very, very tricky conditions today. Very humid and hot. Really happy with the way I got through that one. It’s not easy, he’s had a very good season.”
Despite the fact that Murray entered the match with a good chance, it was not a simple task. Cerúndolo, a 24-year-old Argentinian, has gained more than 100 ranking spots this year and reached a recent career high ranking of 24 after starting the season 127th. His successes include a semi-final run at the Miami Open Masters 1000 event in March and they have been driven by his huge forehand and solid athleticism.
The summer had started promisingly for Murray as he produced some of his best tennis of the past five years in Stuttgart but he suffered an abdominal injury in the final against Matteo Berrettini and lost out to a spectacular serving display by John Isner in the second round of Wimbledon. He came into the US hard court swing hoping to clinch a US Open seeding, only to struggle with cramping throughout.
Despite the tough conditions, this time there was no sign of any physical issues. “I did well,” said Murray. “Mentally it’s not easy going into a five-set match in those conditions after the way the last few weeks have been for me, and I did well. I did well physically and mentally to put that to the back of my mind and find a way to get through. So I was really happy with that.”
Murray immediately dragged Cerúndolo into long exchanges, maintaining depth and keeping him from using his big forehand. He first served for the set at 5-3 but his three successive errors cost him the game. As Cerúndolo served to stay in the set at 4-5, Murray executed a drop volley that bounced twice before his opponent reached it, but the umpire did not see it and awarded the point to the Argentinian.
While Murray was arguing with the umpire, the bounce was shown twice on the big screen. The entire stadium stopped to watch the footage in silence and confirmation of the second bounce prompted widespread boos from the crowd. Cerúndolo then decided to concede the point. During their handshake Murray commended his opponent for his sportsmanship.
“What he did was brilliant and I don’t thinkloads of players on the tour would have done that,” said Murray. “Fair play to him. And I said that to him at the net. He didn’t have to do that either.”
Murray continued to impose pressure with consistent, deep and early returns, and he eventually broke serve for the set courtesy of a double fault on set point from Cerúndolo. With the first set secured he eased through the match to record a solid win. In the end his only issue was his failure to serve out the first and second sets at the first opportunity.
After a bitter summer Murray has taken a hopeful step forward. There is certainly evidence that the 35-year-old is still capable of beating great players; he has already done so, clinching four top-20 wins over the past year.
He began this season with a similar win, taking out the 21st seed, Nikoloz Basilashvili, in the first round of the Australian Open, but Murray then played an atrocious second-round match and lost in straight sets to Taro Daniel, ranked 120 at the time.
While Murray has been able to deliver good individual performances at times, he has rarely been able to build on them with a block of consistent wins. The important question is whether his form and body can hold up over a series of matches and tournaments, allowing him to gain momentum and tread deeper into draws. Having taken over Cerúndolo’s path as the 24th seed, Murray now has an opportunity.
“Essentially I take his spot in the draw now,” he said. “That’s what you have to do if you’re unseeded is get through some seeds. I have drawn a lot of them in the slams I have played in the last few years. Won some of them; obviously lost some as well. It was not an easy first match and I did well to get through it.”
Murray next faces Emilio Nava, a 20-year-old American wildcard, for a place in the third round. Nava, ranked 203, clinched his first grand slam main-draw win by defeating John Millman 7-6 (7), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-1.