US Open 2011: Andy Murray’s love affair with New York
The British No1 comes through a thrilling five-set second round match against Robin Haase in New York
Andy Murray got it just about right after his first-round win over Somdev Devvarman.
His next opponent, he said, was a tough player and, from the perspective of the two-sets deficit that Murray found himself facing, the lithe, big-hitting Dutchman, Robin Haase, looked not just tough but insurmountable.
There have been signs this year that the man from the Netherlands was growing into some good form. He reached the third round in both Melbourne and Wimbledon this year””his best Grand Slam results””and won his first ATP title last month in Kitzbuhel. He only broke into the top 100 a year ago and is No41 in the world.
With a first-ever win at the US Open two days ago””taking a bare hour and a half””he came into Louis Armstrong full of confidence and with nothing to lose. It showed.
In Murray’s opening service game, Haase unleashed the first of many cross-court missile-fast forehands to earn a break point. Murray fended him off with a couple of big serves, but a line had been drawn in the sand, and Haase soon stepped across it.
The Dutchman had two more chances to break in the fifth and four more in the seventh. They were all saved except the last, converted by that huge forehand: 5-3 to Haase.
But when he stepped up to serve for the set, he made the classic mistake””played safe rather than aggressive””and Murray broke back. They headed to a tie-break.
Murray took a quick 4-1 lead but despite Haase going off the boil, Murray fired error after error to give his opponent six of the next seven points and the set.
That gave Haase another burst of confidence and he broke a floundering Murray straight away in the second as errors leaked from the Scot’s racket: 16 unforced errors to add to his 18 from the first set, in an all-to-quick second set that went to the Dutchman, 6-2.
The error count was not Murray’s only concern. He could not find a first serve to save his life: just 43 per cent in the second. Indeed his average for the match only reached 55 per cent. It offered an opening that Haase took with relish.
Facing the prospect of an even earlier exit than his third-round defeat last year, Murray drew on all his resources, both mental and physical, to work just a bit harder in the third. He explained afterwards:
“I was moving really badly the first couple of sets. That meant I was making a lot of mistakes I don’t normally make. Once I really just forced myself to get to as many balls as possible, hustled a few points, got the break in the third set, I started playing better and moving better.”
In the third game, he found some forehand winners and big serves, and Haase began to make more errors: From just three in the second set, he jumped to 13. Murray seized the momentum and broke twice for a 6-2 set.
With Haase calling for a medical time-out for his right hip and knee, things looked even more rosy for Murray. The Dutchman has suffered knee problems throughout his career, needing surgery in 2008 and again in 2009 when he lost 10 months from the tour.
Haase began to struggle with just about every element of his game. After picking off crisp overheads in the first two sets, he now shanked or netted balls time and again. Murray tested and teased his struggling opponent with countless drop shots””a test of any suspect knee””and broke serve three times to take the set 6-0.
The match looked so entirely in the hands of Murray that many began making their way across the divide to catch James Blake and David Ferrer on the Grandstand court.
Murray took on the look of a man finally in control of the match. He rushed to a 3-0 lead in the final set””playing one running forehand down-the-line winner which brought an ovation that lasted a couple of minutes: The match looked done and dusted.
But the crowd’s excitement seemed to inspire Haase who halted a 13-game stretch for Murray with a service hold, 1-4. Before Murray knew what was happening, Haase had sealed one break back with a sizzling smash.
Now it was the Dutchman’s turn to summon the crowd’s support with his own roar of encouragement. And he was not done there. In the eighth game, he sliced and diced and then found a cracking down-the-line backhand winner to break again. It was 4-4.
The crowds by now were flooding back to soak up two men playing their best at the same time, but it was the Dutchman who wavered first: perhaps the less fit, the less experienced in such a nerve-jangling situation.
Haase made two overhead errors to go 0-30 down and then pushed a forehand just wide to hand one more break to Murray: The Scot would serve for the match at last.
What became the concluding game was a mini-drama all of its own. Haase went ahead 30-0 but Murray pulled him back with a couple of wide serves. He then brought up match point with a fluked net cord that took the ball skipping over the Haase racket: heart-breaking for the Dutchman.
He got his own back with searing forehand winners reminiscent of the opening games of the match and brought up break point, only to concede it with a netted return.
Murray attacked with a big serve and a put-away volley for yet another chance and this time the Haase forehand went wide””except that Hawkeye proved it had clipped the line. Abruptly, the celebrations stopped and Murray had to refocus. This time, the Haase return really did fly long and Murray simply flew””in a huge leap of pumping joy.
He said after his first match: “I don’t think you want to be playing your best tennis right at the beginning of the tournament, I think that’s something that over the years I’ve got better at understanding”¦Today, I didn’t start the match great but I actually calmed down more as the match went on”¦so I’m happy I can still improve.”
It could have been a commentary on his second match, too. “It’s just one of those matches where anything could have happened at the end. I just stayed a little bit tougher than him and got the win.”
He also got the New York crowd on their feet. As he said: “They love emotion and they love a bit of drama”¦someone fighting their way back”¦I enjoyed the end of the match and I think it showed.”
It did, and the city took him to its heart. The Murray love affair with the most vibrant Slam of the year continues.
A welcome footnote to the Murray campaign at Flushing Meadows is that he has now become the third man to qualify for the World Tour Finals in London in November, the fourth straight year he has done so. What’s more, he’s qualified faster than Roger Federer: not a bad achievement.