First, he faced Robin Haase, the man who had him two sets down here in 2011. His first seed in Round 3 promised to be Fernando Verdasco, who had him in the same position at Wimbledon last year.
Next could come Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat him in Toronto a fortnight ago on his way to the title. As for the quarter-finals, well that would almost certainly be the world No1, Novak Djokovic, finalist here for four years in a row and champion in 2011—though Murray did beat the Serb for the title in 2012.
And the Briton was not enjoying the best preparation for the last Grand Slam of the year, having given up leads in the quarter-finals of both the Toronto and Cincinnati Masters.
On top of that, he was still in search of his first title—indeed his first final—since Wimbledon last year and the back surgery that followed last year’s US Open. His return to that peak of performance, at a consistent level, was proving more elusive than anticipated.
But as if all that was not enough, he suffered a problem of an altogether more unexpected kind in his opening match. With a two sets lead, he was suddenly gripped by what he would afterwards explain as a full body cramp.
For one of the fittest men in tennis, this was inexplicable, even to Murray himself. And even by the next day, talking to The New York Times, he was unable to elaborate, though he had made a complete recovery:
“I feel fine. I felt fine yesterday evening after the match. I started to feel good about an hour after the match… And I woke up this morning and I wasn’t really sore, or stiff, or anything. So, yeah, I’ll just try to work out what it was in the next couple of days, look at everything I drank, everything I ate, and make sure I do everything I can to recover.”
Fortunately, his second-round opponent was not expected to tax him over much: Matthias Bachinger was ranked a lowly 235 and the 27-year-old German had never been higher than 85. He had no titles to his name and had won only a single Grand Slam match in his career—his first-round match against veteran Radek Stepanek this week. Indeed Bachinger had never won a Masters match either, losing the only one he had ever played in Indian Wells two years ago.
Not surprisingly, their paths had not crossed before, though they were born a month apart—not on the main tour, not in Davis Cup, or Challengers or qualifying.
All the more enjoyable, then, that their games seemed designed to bring out the most creative in each other. Bachinger clearly determined in his tactics that he needed to go on the offensive, and was admirably fearless in chasing to the net whenever he got the chance.
It is a dangerous tactic against Murray, who can read an opponent’s game as well as anyone—and when on song, he can counter such attacks and take the initiative himself.
And it was a lively, focused Murray who, in some very cool and blustery conditions, converted the first chance in the eighth game. Bachinger had plenty of ideas and plenty of tools at his disposal, chipping and charging, playing some decent volleys and defending as though his life depended on it. But Murray was able to do all it just a little better.
Bachinger chased everything for all he was worth but never looked like breaking back, and Murray served out the set, 6-3.
Murray now seemed to be in full flow, and he made some audacious winners to the gasps of a packed Arthur Ashe. First a winning drop shot from the baseline, next a lob perfectly guided by the wind to fly off the court. It was cruel but brilliant, and Murray served to love to consolidate a 4-2 lead. An hour and five minutes on the clock and the Briton had the second set, 6-3.
To Bachinger’s credit, he kept fighting, kept chasing in, kept tracking down Murray’s ground strokes, smashes and lobs. In the second set, he came in 14 times, in the third even more often, and he was making at least half of his points there. He also earned a chance to break in the fifth game, 0-40, but netted a volley, put a forehand long and saw an ace flash past. It’s hard to know what more he could have done.
With the chance snuffed out, he held on bravely, and defended five deuces and two break points to level at 4-4, but his resistance became futile. Murray was making few errors but pressuring his opponent constantly. Indeed he was making more winners at the net than Bachinger, an impressive 10 from 11 in the second set, 10 from 12 in the third. He broke in the 11th game and served it out 6-4.
Here was a Murray in total contrast to the bemused man who, head bowed, left his first match in pain. Now he beamed, joked about his singing band of supporters, and reflected on his first memory of the Arthur Ashe arena he loves so much: “I love coming back here, it’s a different atmosphere to anywhere else in the world…. I love it.
“I came to watch the women’s final in 2003—Henin and Clijsters—and I always wanted to come back and play here myself.”
There was a little more good news for Murray, too. While he had been playing, Verdasco had lost to Andrey Kuznetsov in five sets. The 23-year-old Russian beat David Ferrer at Wimbledon, but ranked 96—and with a five-setter in his legs—the signs look good for Murray. However, Tsonga remains in contention after a blistering display against Aleksandr Nedovyesov, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Djokovic, who sailed past Paul-Henri Mathieu for the loss of just four games, will meet Sam Querrey, who beat No28 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
In the same quarter, and a possible fourth-round opponent for Djokovic, No13 John Isner and No22 Philipp Kohlschreiber both advanced to meet in the third-round here for the third year in a row. The German won their last meetings, but Isner looked in very good form, hitting 30 aces in his three-set victory today. However, Kohlschreiber will be well rested after his opponent, Michael Llodra, retired after one set.
In the other top-half Wawrinka-headed quarter, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic moved one round closer to an intriguing fourth-round clash.
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