THE scheduling may be appalling, the organisers may not know how to run a tea and bun stall much less a grand slam tournament, but nothing is going to stop Andy Murray from giving everything in his US Open title defence.
Yesterday, he dispatched Leonardo Mayer 7-5, 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, taking two hours and 41 minutes in the stifling heat to reach the third round and set up an appointment with Florian Mayer (no relation) tomorrow. Murray has been in town for two weeks and yet yesterday’s outing was only his second match of the tournament. It was no wonder that there were mutterings and chunterings of frustration as the Scot tried to move through the gears and leave Mayer trailing in his wake. As those gears crashed and groaned, the champion’s tennis may not have been at its best, but his language was choice.
But if this was not Murray’s finest performance – any man with ambitions to the title would be hoping to save those for the second week – there were moments when Mayer was playing like a man possessed. The Argentine came flying out of the blocks to carry the attack to the champion; he took charge of the baseline, forcing Murray to retreat further and further until he was scurrying around by the backstop. Mayer lobbed and volleyed and smashed – he was playing the tennis of his life.
But there is a reason why 78 ranking places separates Murray and Mayer: Murray can play consistently well from first ball until last; Mayer has moments of magic and moments of madness. And even when the world No 3 is not at his absolute best, he knows how to find a way to win. By contrast, when Mayer was playing out of his skin, he did not know how to make it count. The last time they played, the match was equally long and tortuous. Back in 2009 at the Valencia event, Murray was unsure what to expect from his Argentine rival and took three, arduous sets to get the better of him. This time around, he knew what was coming but still it took him a good hour to take the lead and secure it with a break of serve in the second set.
For 11 long games, the two men had stood toe-to-toe. Murray never appeared to be in any danger but, by the same token, he could not put a stranglehold on the match. Every slight chance was whisked away by Mayer and it took the Scot 36 minutes to earn his first break point. That one went begging but then, just as it seemed that a tiebreak was inevitable, Mayer went to serve to stay in the set and promptly produced four consecutive forehand errors. That handed the first set to the Scot on a silver platter and that appeared to be that.
As Mayer’s challenge crumbled, Murray ran away with the second set and it seemed that normal service had been resumed: the champion trotting towards the next round and the journeyman heading for the exit. Alas, Mayer had not read that script and when Murray’s form dipped slightly at the start of the third set, he came back again. Murray’s mood darkened, his mutterings became louder and his frustration was obvious while, at the same time, Mayer kept his serve safe and his defences intact and waited for the set to drop into his hands. Yet for all the Scot’s frustration, for all Mayer’s courage and daring, there was never a real danger that Murray would lose. Mayer was not strong enough to hit him off the court, he was not good enough to tie Murray in a tactical tangle; everyone was just waiting for the US Open champion to pull rank and show Mayer who was boss.
That finally happened at the start of the fourth set – Murray broke for a 3-1 lead and suddenly all was well with his world. Mayer, knowing that he was well beaten, had nothing left to give and did not win another game while Murray sped towards the third round.
Laura Robson could not repeat her giantkilling feat of last year, losing quickly and uneventfully to Li Na 6-2, 7-5. Last year, she had made her name by beating Li 48 hours after ousting Kim Clijsters on her way to the fourth round; 12 months on and Li was ready and waiting for her. The errors from the Chinese that had helped Robson on her way last year were eliminated while the speed and accuracy of Li’s shot-making was finely tuned. Britain’s No 1 was never given a sniff of a chance and in just 81 minutes, she was ushered towards the exit.
“She served very well today and I thought she was returning really deep,” Robson said. “There wasn’t a lot I could do in some points. It was quite windy when we started the match, and so then on one side you would kind of have to play more spin, and, yeah, I wasn’t quite doing that very well.
“I thought she played really well. She didn’t give me too many chances in the rally, so I never felt I got a rhythm going with my ground strokes. It’s always tough. I thought she played a really good match.”