IF Andy Murray was prepared to sweat blood to win his first grand slam title in New York last year, he was made to sweat buckets in order to defend it yesterday.
In the sauna that is New York in late summer, Murray huffed and puffed for almost two hours to get the better of Florian Mayer 7-6, 6-2, 6-2 and advance to the fourth round. It was not his best performance by any means but it was still enough to get the job done. And getting it done it straight sets before the rain that was forecast to move in later in the day was all that mattered. He will play Uzbekistan’s Denis Istamin in the fourth round.
“They were very difficult conditions today and he was a very tricky opponent,” Murray said. “He played a lot of sort of strange shots and he takes your time away – it’s tough to get a rhythm so I was glad to get through in three sets.
“It cooled down a little bit towards the end but, at the end of the first set and the second set, it was extremely hot. We’ve been told there are thunderstorms coming so, hopefully, it will take away some of the humidity in the next few days.
“I think I just need to start matches maybe a little bit quicker in the second week. I was a little bit slow out of the blocks today and, once I got going, I started to strike the ball a little bit cleaner, when I was moving my feet, getting into the right position, I was hitting the ball well, so certainly quicker starts would help me.”
The US Open is the ultimate test of endurance. The Australian Open may be hotter, the Wimbledon surface may be trickier and the French Open may produce longer matches but playing in the Big Apple requires physical stamina and the patience of a saint. As the summer draws to a close, the humidity is oppressive to the point of being suffocating and yesterday it may not have been particularly hot but, with the humidity reaching 70 per cent, the air felt thick, hot and wet – it was like being wrapped in a warm, wet blanket.
At the change of ends, both men looked like wrung-out dishrags as they slumped in their chairs. Murray wrapped himself in an ice towel in an attempt to cool off but nothing could protect him during the rallies. No wonder that he looked sluggish and lethargic as the match began and the sweat dripped from his brow.
His first serve had deserted him – his average was down to 32 per cent midway through the opening set – and the rest of his game was only firing on three cylinders. Even so, it was enough to keep Mayer at arm’s length; the German was keeping pace with the defending champion but he was not threatening him in any way. By the time they got to the tiebreak, Mayer’s resistance was ready to crack and he played a miserable decider, claiming only two points.
A set to the good, the Scot was able to relax a little. He began to serve with more accuracy and he began to take charge of the rallies. Murray took the early lead, breaking for 2-0 and, from there, scampered towards the third set. By this point, they had been on court for more than an hour and a half and they both looked shattered. No matter, Murray was willing to dig as deep as was necessary to get the job done and so he launched one more attack, a lung-bursting effort that earned him an early break of serve and effectively won him the match.
Alas, Dan Evans’s US Open is over but he is leaving New York with Murray’s praises ringing in his ears and the admiration and respect of his Davis Cup captain, Leon Smith, to console him. The 23-year-old was disappointed to lose to Tommy Robredo 7-6, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 in the third round on Saturday night but he knows that, but for a couple of points in the first set and a couple of poor errors on set points at the end of the fourth set, he was within touching distance of the fourth round.
“I’m not that disappointed,” Evans said. “He out-experienced me in the end. I just rushed a bit. At 40-15, I felt like I was going to win the match, then the momentum turned a little bit. I don’t know what happened. I served a terrible double fault and the forehand was one of the first ones I missed in the set. I didn’t feel tight, I just missed an easy ball.
“But those 40-15, 40-30 points may stay in my head for a few days.”
His fighting qualities and stylish play delighted the crowd on the Louis Armstrong court and impressed Murray as he monitored the match from afar.
“Evo should be so proud whatever happens from now, amazing fighting, great attitude, looks fresher than trob.” Murray tweeted. “Never thought that would happen!”
“I think Andy is giving me more respect now,” Evans said. “He has always said that I am talented but I wasn’t winning the matches. It’s good now that he’s seeing that I am applying myself and that I’m doing what I need to be doing.
“This week has been a good stepping stone but I’m not where I want to be. I’m not ranked in the top 100. I’ve got some work to do. It’s definitely helped to see a lot of the guys how they work, day in day out. I think quite a few of them have been impressed by how I’ve done, so it’s been good.”
In the doubles, Scotland’s Colin Fleming and partner Jonathan Marray, the 12th seeds, earned a spot in the quarter-finals with a smooth 6-4, 6-4 victory over No 6 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France.
Standing in their way, however, is the formidable obstacle of the Bryan brother, Bob Bryan and Mike. The top-seeded Americans had to battle hard for their place, though, beating Canadian duo Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil 6-7 (1-7), 7-5, 6-2.