US Open 2014: Gutsy Murray battles past pain and Haase to win opener

US Open 2014: Andy Murray overcomes a bout of cramp to beat Robin Haase in four sets to reach the second round

andy murray
Andy Murray in action at the US Open Photo: Marianne Bevis

The first-day schedule for the final Grand Slam of 2014 was not a bad way to open a tennis tournament.

At just after midday, 2012 US Open champion Andy Murray kicked off against the man who, in 2011, came within inches of putting him out in the second round. Robin Haase surged to a two-sets lead before Murray got a grip on the match, won in five, and got all the way to the semi-finals. Their rematch was even on the same court, the often rowdy, baking hot Armstrong.

That was because Arthur Ashe played host to a man currently seeded higher than Murray’s No8, and already a Grand Slam champion this year: No3 Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss played one of the youngest men in the top 100, the up-and-coming talent, Jiri Vesely. The tall left-handed Czech’s quality was recognised at the end of 2013 with the ATP’s Star of Tomorrow award, and this year had beaten Gael Monfils at Wimbledon, Lukas Rosol at Roland Garros, Pablo Andujar in Indian Wells, and Jurgen Melzer on his way to the Dusseldorf semis. He was not to be taken lightly.

Scheduled on Grandstand at the same time was Toronto champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and all that was a prelude to the main men’s event of the day, the opening salvo from world No1 Novak Djokvoic. His would be late, it would be noisy, it would follow the grand opening ceremony and then one of New York’s favourite daughters, Maria Sharapova.

In the event, Murray took to court first in what was a tricky draw and schedule. With a couple of quarter-final finishes in Toronto and Cincinnati—losing significant leads in both, albeit to in-form high-quality opposition in Tsonga and Roger Federer—the Briton needed to hit the ground running against Haase, who had put together wins over Richard Gasquet, Mikhail Youzhny and Vasek Pospisil since the summer.

But Murray talked of growing confidence ahead of a tournament that brought him his first Grand Slam: “I have been playing well the last few weeks.

“I lost to guys who had won the events, and [I] had quite big opportunities in both those matches. I feel like I’m playing well. This week has been very good preparation. I’m happy. I feel ready to start the tournament.”

He also reflected on his previous US encounter with Haase: “It was a strange match. It wasn’t a particularly clean tennis match, but I found a way to get through.”

This time around, Murray began the stronger after opening with a double fault—the first of five in the set. That proved not to be a problem, and after a good hold, he broke to love in the second game with a lob winner.

Murray aced to lead 3-0 and, in what began to look a rout, threw in a couple of fine sliced backhands to beat Haase at the net for another break, 4-0, but the Dutchman rallied to force a break back. Now, though, Haase was looking more solid, held strongly and pressured Murray, who obliged with two double faults.

Twice Murray faced deuce and twice break point, one of them after the rally of the match, a 26-shot stunner that Haase won with a touch volley winner. But Murray found some big serves to hold for the set, 6-3.

Haase’s form continued to improve, and Murray put a forehand wide on a third break point to go down 1-3. The lead was short-lived, and Murray broke straight back in an increasingly patchy set, with each man battling on serve. Come the tie-break, Murray put his foot down to take a speedy 5-2 lead, but they changed ends at 6-6. Murray was not for turning, though, and won the vital point against serve to take the set, 8-6.

So far, then, a reverse of their match here three years ago, but just as on that occasion, things were about to get very difficult. Murray’s first problem was Haase, who was playing more consistently, going for his shots, and cranking up the winners count.

Come the third game, the Dutchman worked six break points in a game that extended to almost 10 minutes—and for each winner Haase made, Murray seemed to match it with an error. With two hours on the board, Haase made the break, and held off a challenge in the fourth game to lead 3-1.

Now it was becoming increasingly clear that Murray was struggling physically. He looked stiff between points, his ball toss was short, and he was defending with less energy. The errors began to pile up, and a backhand put long conceded another break, and then one more to concede the set, 1-6.

Each time he landed or twisted, Murray was in evident pain—in legs as well as shoulders and forearms. The only explanation appeared to be a trapped nerve or cramping, and he was anxious to treat himself with ice before the fourth set.

If this went to fifth set, one feared for Murray’s hopes. He looked in some distress, and shook his head at his box as Haase broke to take a 3-0 lead and held with his 13th ace.

Soon it was 4-1, but if there was one ray of hope for Murray, it was the sight of Haase taking treatment to his left ankle. The Dutchman was suffering too, and it played into Murray’s astute tactical tennis brain.

He dragged Haase left and right, forward and back, drawing a couple of wayward smashes in the process. Murray had the break back, but landed painfully and no longer sat down at the change of ends.

Still he struggled, was broken again, and Haase served for the set, cancelling 0-30 with two aces. But the pressure, and Murray’s tactics, took their toll. Murray broke to go on a gutsy four-game spree as the crowds lifted him just enough to keep control. Indeed they surely played a very small part in their former champion’s victory, 7-5, in a little over three hours.

Murray was clearly still in some distress as he endured the obligatory on-court interview, but admitted, correctly, that “parts of that match weren’t particularly pretty.”

But that can be what separates Grand Slam champions from the rest—an ability to adjust in the face of adversary, dig a little deeper, think a little clearer, and grind out the win.

There remain concerns over his physical condition, for it transpires he was suffering from body cramps.

He said: “Normally it’s kind of a gradual thing, but after maybe two-and-a-half, three hours maybe you start to feel like that. Just it came extremely early on and in a stage…

“I can’t worry about it too much. There’s nothing I can do. This is the shape I’m in for the tournament. I feel or I felt extremely good before the match, and I did train very, very hard to get ready for the tournament. For me it was unexpected, and therefore quite difficult mentally to deal with, because, like I say, sometimes it can happen one area of your body. But when it starts to kind of go everywhere, you don’t know exactly where it’s going to creep up next.

“So it’s unlikely, I would say, that it’s down to maybe poor physical condition, because I have trained and played matches… I don’t know if it’s something I have done in the last few days that’s been wrong or not, but I need to try and find out why.”

Murray goes on to play qualifier Matthais Bachinger, who put out the oldest man in the draw, Radek Stepanek. And by the time Murray had avoided his first opening-match defeat at a Grand Slam since 2008, two other seeds had not been so lucky.

The charismatic Australian teenager, Nick Kyrgios, who beat Rafael Nadal to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, beat the two-time US Open semi-finalist Mikhail Youzhny in four sets. Kyrgios will next play Andreas Seppi, who beat Sergiy Stakhovsky.

Also out, in five sets, was No24 seed Julien Benneteau, beaten by Benoit Paire. However, Tsonga came through the dangerous Juan Monaco in four sets.

A noteworthy win, for two reasons, was that of Fernando Verdasco. He is the first scheduled seed in Murray’s segment, and his five-set victory over Blaz Rola was his 400th career match-win. Just one of the 32 30-year-olds still ticking off personal records.

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