Antwerp 2021: Diego Schwartzman ends Andy Murray run to keep alive Turin hopes
Murray played longest three-setter of 2021 in Round 1—three and three-quarter hours
It was an extraordinary match and an extraordinary aftermath in Antwerp this week, between former champion Andy Murray and a man more than a decade his junior—and ranked more than 100 places higher—Frances Tiafoe.
Murray must have grown used to facing tough opponents in the earliest stages of tournaments—the inevitable result of still working back from the lower ranks to anything like his former fitness following major hip surgery.
Tiafoe was the latest in a run of opponents ranked considerably higher: Andrey Rublev in Rotterdam; Matteo Berrettini at Queen’s; Denis Shapovalov at Wimbledon; Hubert Hurkacz in Cincinnati; and that outstanding five-set marathon against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the US Open.
All of these players are in contention for the ATP Finals. Meanwhile, to add to Murray‘s trials, he was knocked back again early in the season by a positive Covid test and a groin injury. Yet with each match he did play, there were signs of the former No1 battling back to something like his old self.
Antwerp in 2019 was the first big breakthrough for the Briton after acquiring his metal hip at the start of the season: He won the title, before picking up a pelvic injury and then—the coronavirus shutdown.
But back in Antwerp this week, drawn against the 23-year-old American, he threw in the kind of performance for which he has become renowned: a three-tie-break record-making effort after three and three-quarter hours. He confessed:
“I don’t think I’ve ever played a match like that. I think it’s the longest three-set match I’ve played by quite a distance…
“Nowadays obviously my body is old. I’ve played a lot of matches on the Tour. I don’t mind playing long matches, but that was taking it to another level.”
The young American embraced Murray and later posted an emotional tribute to his opponent, saying: “You’re the biggest competitor I know—the respect I have for you is through the roof.”
Murray afterwards admitted that the two men had done something very unusual after a match: They talked for half an hour or more in the locker room:
“[Had] a long chat with Frances afterwards, so I’ll probably remember that and then the embrace at the end…”
Now Murray faced another of the men battling towards the last spots in the Race to Turin, though the No15 ranked Diego Schwartzman had recently lost a bit of ground to his rivals. He made the quarters in recent weeks in San Diego and Indian Wells, but he would need some big points in the few remaining events, including Antwerp. The title this week could propel him into 13th place, with the Paris Masters just around the corner, but his fate may depend on the results of the few men ahead of him—and on this, his very first meeting with Murray.
The biggest question, of course, was whether the Briton had recovered from his first-round efforts. Schwartzman is one of the quickest and fittest men on the tour, able to run from first point to last. Could Murray live with him?
There were already some long exchanges in the first games, with both men holding serve, but also their ability to make winners off tricky drop shots. Murray was finding great length, and swinging from the baseline to both corners, throwing in changes of spin. It was a tactic that earned the first break in the fourth game, 3-1: Murray had dropped just one point on serve.
Things were about to turn around, though. At 4-2, Murray’s serve lost some of its accuracy, and he got outpaced around the net, to his great frustration. And at the third time of asking, Schwartzman broke.
The Argentine consolidated with a couple of blistering passes, and was clearly starting to find the pace and range of the court in his first match in Antwerp. He worked the angles and the corners, pressing Murray to the extremes of the court, and it earned him another break to serve for the match.
Murray was livid, chastising himself constantly, but it made little difference: Schwartzman served out to love, 6-4.
Murray changed up the tactics in the first game of the second set, and he had to: He was being out-played at the back of the court, so he started to move forward to finish at the net, force the pace, keep the rallies shorter. He saved two break points to hold, though his first-serve level continued to languish at little more than 40 percent.
However, Schwartzman continued to harry and rush Murray, got the first break, and led 4-2 before the Briton upped his level, held, and then broke back, 4-4. He had to hang tough to hold, but sure enough, he regained the lead, 5-4.
Still Schwartzman played with great focus, held to love with some good serving and a net finish, then he eased to 6-6. The Argentine looked the fresher, though both men struggled to hold their serves—10 points in a row going against the server. But once Schwartzman held for 6-5, the writing was on the wall. One last error from Murray, and the Argentine advanced to the quarters, 7-6(6).
Schwartzman next plays a qualifier, Henri Laaksonen or Brandon Nakashima, so will be hoping for more points at this vital stage of the season. However, two men above him in the Race, Jannik Sinner and Aslan Karatsev also reached the quarters of, respectively, Antwerp and Moscow
Race to Turin [with scheduled tournaments in addition to Paris Masters]
1. Novak Djokovic 8,370
2. Daniil Medvedev 6,470
3. Stefanos Tsitsipas 5,650 [Vienna 500]
4. Alexander Zverev 5,095 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
5. Andrey Rublev 4,165 [St Petersburg 250]
6. Matteo Berrettini 4,000 [Vienna 500]
7. Casper Ruud 3,015 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
[Rafael Nadal not playing]
8. Hubert Hurkacz 2,955 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
9. Cameron Norrie 2,795 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
10. Jannik Sinner 2,640 [In QF Antwerp 250, Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
11. Felix Auger-Aliassime 2,330 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
12. Aslan Karatsev 2,075 [In QF Moscow 250, St Petersburg 250, Stockholm 250]
13. Pablo Carreno Busta 1,925 [Vienna 500]
14. Nikoloz Basilashvili, 1,885 [Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]
15. Denis Shapovalov 1,835 [St Petersburg 250, Stockholm 250]
16. Diego Schwartzman 1,750 [In QF Antwerp 250, Vienna 500, Stockholm 250]