August 26, 2014
Pain-stricken Andy Murray almost fell at the US Open’s first hurdle – and looked a physical wreck by the end of his dramatic contest against Robin Haase. Yet somehow the 2012 US Open champion scraped through, having done just enough when it mattered against the unspectacular Dutchman.
Murray took the first two sets 6-3, 7-6 (6). Then the wheels fell off as his serve fell apart under duress and he cramped up repeatedly. He lost the next set 1-6 and fell well behind in the fourth, even though it was Haase who called for the trainer. Somehow Murray fought his way back to close out the match 7-5, after his cause had looked hopeless.
Murray said later: ‘I don’t know if it was the heat but I was cramping up, which isn’t normal. My quads and forearms, everything was cramping up. It shouldn’t happen, regardless of the temperature.’
Murray had looked on the point of retiring at the end of a third-set thrashing, when he seemed to be suffering from a tweaked muscle and heat exhaustion. Strangely he opted not to seek medical help or call for the time-out to which he was entitled. He knew he had to up his game in New York if he wanted to turn around his fortunes in the last Slam of a forgettable year for him. Instead, things seemed to be going from bad to worse. His shaky serve was broken at least once in each set. Better players than Haase would have punished that vulnerability more ruthlessly.
Although the 2013 Wimbledon winner was off to a roaring start at 4-0, he allowed himself to be broken before eventually closing out the first set 6-3. Murray soon fell 1-3 behind in the second, hindered when his angled smash only found the net and a forehand was carelessly wayward. But at least he summoned some of his best tennis when he was in trouble. Andy broke back in good time to force the set into a tie-break.
Though Murray led 5-2 in that breaker, Haase clawed his way back to 6-6. The favourite wasn’t helped by the fact that he chose to challenge a first serve call when he had obviously fired well wide on set point. Again, however, Andy came good when it mattered to secure a two-set advantage. How he needed that cushion later on. The Scot was feeling his leg ominously and was broken three times as he capitulated in the third.
Murray was broken again in the second game of the fourth set, lacking any natural spring off either leg, and fell 1-4 behind. Somehow he broke back to 3-4, even though he nursed his leg and shoulder during that comeback.
Haase broke again and looked certain to level the match… until Murray struck back with two fresh breaks of his own. Suddenly the Scot was serving for a match that he had looked distinctly unlikely to finish. Haase had a point to force a fourth-set tie-breaker but Murray dug deep. He closed out the match with a stunning cross-court forehand.
Whether or not the British star can stay the course at this demanding tournament is another matter entirely. Only time and the speed of his recovery will tell. And last night Murray was still struggling to understand what had just happened to his ailing body.