NOTHING is ever straightforward in Andy Murray’s life. Just when he thought he was better prepared than ever before as the US Open begins, that his coaching arrangements were settled and his training was going well, his campaign was almost derailed by a bout of cramp as he struggled to get the better of Robin Haase in the first round yesterday.
Why one of the fittest men on the tour – and one who only recently completed a lung-bursting three-week training block in the suffocating humidity of Florida – should be felled by a rookie’s complaint is anyone’s guess but on a warm, summer afternoon, Murray was in all sorts of trouble. He managed to come through in one piece 6-3, 7-6, 1-6, 7-5 but there was a spell in the third and fourth sets when it looked as if simply putting one foot in front of another was beyond him.
“My quads were cramping and I started to get in my forearms,” Murray said. “These slams are physically challenging but it shouldn’t happen after an hour and 45 minutes even though it was hot.
“I stared cramping at the start of the third set. It was not particularly comfortable but I tried to hang around as long as I could to get through.
“I was in a good position at two sets to love up but then I didn’t know whether to go for it or try and conserve some energy for the start of the fourth set. Parts of that match weren’t particularly pretty but I managed to get through.
“I need to just try and find out what went wrong. It was hot today, for sure, but I don’t think it was particularly humid. And at the time it happened, I wasn’t exhausted. I didn’t feel incredibly tired or anything. It just happened.
“The fact that it was the whole body would suggest that maybe it was something to do with my eating or drinking, because if it’s through fatigue in one part of your body, then, yeah, that would probably be down to conditioning.”
For some reason that not even Murray can fathom, he rarely plays well in the Louis Armstrong stadium, the second biggest show court in Flushing Meadows. He has struggled there against the good, the great and workmanlike in the past and the last time he faced Haase at the US Open, he was sucked into a five set nail-biter of a match. He won that one, too, but it took every ounce of strength, experience and will power to do it. Yesterday was no different, although this time he was fighting his own body and physical frailties as much as the tall bloke on the other side of the net.
The big-hitting Dutchman has had a very mediocre year, spending much of his time losing in the first and second rounds of tournaments around the globe. Ranked 70 in the world, he could not get into the two Masters 1000 events that provide the traditional warm-up to the Open and, instead, his only hard court play this summer came at Winston-Salem last week where, unsurprisingly, he lost in the second round. In four previous visits to New York, he had only won one match, so the form book was not backing him to make much of an impression on the draw this year.
But Haase came to the court with the feeling that he could cause the Scot some trouble. For the first time, he was feeling fit – he had surgery on his right knee five years and has never spent a day without pain since then – and he knew what to expect from the former champion. If he was to stand a chance against Murray, he thought yesterday might be the day. When the 2013 Wimbledon champion started to seize up in front of him, he could barely believe his luck.
For the first four games, Haase’s confidence seemed ill-founded as Murray sprinted to an early lead and was two breaks to the good before the restless and noisy crowd had finished their first sodas. But then Murray threw in a sloppy service game and Haase perked up. The dropped service game was not enough to stop him winning the set but it was an alarming hint of what was to come.
Trying to win the match without the aid of a first serve was always going to be tricky and as the double fault count rose – he ended up with nine of them – Murray’s service games were there for the taking. Even so, Murray managed to cling to his lead and move two sets ahead. And at the point, his back seemed to tighten and his left hamstring began to twang. Constantly stretching his leg and flexing his back, he barely moved in the third set as Haase ran away with it.
Nine games whistled past Murray’s racket as Haase took the third set and got the early break in the fourth. In between games, Murray kept stretching and wincing and icing down his thigh muscles in an attempt to stop them setting hard like concrete. That was when the full body cramp set in – Murray has never been a man to do things by halves – and as he tried to force his way back into the set, he was stopped in his tracks as his thigh muscles and arm went into spasm at the same moment. He still got the break of serve, mind you, but every muscle was rebelling and, just in case he was not in enough trouble already, he appeared to pull a muscle around his rib cage.
But pain or no pain, Murray was willing to hang on for the win. Haase was not going to stop the Scot from heading into the second round and a meeting with Matthias Bachinger.