Andy Murray must block out weirdness of huge, empty arenas at US Open

Cameron Norrie stuns ninth seed Diego Schwartzman in five-set comeback
Cameron Norrie plays a return to Diego Schwartzman. Picture: Frank Franklin II/APCameron Norrie plays a return to Diego Schwartzman. Picture: Frank Franklin II/AP
Cameron Norrie plays a return to Diego Schwartzman. Picture: Frank Franklin II/AP

Andy Murray is bracing himself for the “weird” experience of playing at the US Open without any fans.

The first grand slam since the coronavirus pandemic struck is under way in New York and is being played behind closed doors.

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Murray, playing his first major since January 2019, takes on Japanese Yoshihito Nishioka on Arthur Ashe.

Andy Murray in action at the Western & Southern Open. Picture: Matthew Stockman/GettyAndy Murray in action at the Western & Southern Open. Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty
Andy Murray in action at the Western & Southern Open. Picture: Matthew Stockman/Getty

It is a court where some of his best moments have occurred, memorably winning the 2012 title, and the Scot is preparing himself for it to be very different.

“I think mentally it’s going to be difficult for the players,” he said of playing behind closed doors. “It is difficult, but the level of tennis is what’s important.

“If you can sort of block all of the weirdness of playing without a crowd, like, on big stadiums and stuff. I actually felt OK doing that last week. It didn’t feel too bad in the matches.

“It will be tricky. I play my first match on Arthur Ashe. I played some of the best atmospheres that I’ve ever played in tennis on that court. To go out there on such a huge stadium and have literally no one in the stands is going to be weird. I know that’s going to be the case, so at least I can prepare for it mentally.

“It’s different, but I’m just looking forward to getting to compete in a slam again.”

Murray has not played a best-of-five-sets singles match since having a metal plate inserted into his hip in January 2019, but he is backing his body to be able to come through it.

“The day off (in between matches) helps for sure,” he said. “Last week was tough, the day after the match with (Alexander) Zverev, but it was also the first match I had played, matches I had played, in 10 months.

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“So playing two two-and-a-half-hour matches in the heat of the day was difficult. But my body will learn fast.

“It has been playing tennis matches its whole life. I think it will adjust to what it is required to do. It might just take a bit of time because it has not done it for a while.”

Cameron Norrie put in a magnificent performance to record the first upset of this year’s tournament by coming from two sets down to stun ninth seed Diego Schwartzman.

Norrie was staring down the barrel of a straight-sets defeat until the wheels came off for Argentinian Schwartzman in the third.

Having hauled himself level, a thrilling, fluctuating fifth set eventually went to British No 3 Norrie, ranked 76 in the world, to seal a memorable 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 victory in just under four hours.

In a match featuring an astonishing 58 break points – a US Open record – Norrie’s serve let him down in the first set as he was broken three times by the world No 13.

The lanky left-hander pulled one back but squandered four break points at 2-3, and then dropped serve again to lose the set with a wayward forehand.

Norrie clawed back an early break, gift wrapped with a double fault, in the second but, at the end of a punishing set, all he had to show for his efforts was a 2-0 deficit and a warning from the umpire for smashing a ball into orbit.

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However, with Schwartzman seemingly annoyed at Norrie avoiding another code violation and then briefly rattled by a time violation, the Briton took advantage and suddenly the comeback was on.

He raced through the third and fourth sets, hitting just 13 unforced errors compared to 34 over the previous two.

A titanic first game in the fifth saw Norrie fend off six break points, four with aces, only for Schwartzman to take his chance at the seventh attempt. Norrie hit back immediately but the breaks kept coming with Schwartzman edging ahead.

The South American served for the match at 5-4 but clearly had little left in the tank and Norrie was again able to claw himself level before taking the next two games to wrap up victory.

Norrie said: “I’m pretty tired. The tennis level from me wasn’t that great but I had a pretty good attitude and was fortunate to sneak through. It was a tough one.

“The first two sets I was rushing everything and making too many errors. But I backed myself physically and he was struggling a bit at the end.

“The British guys were watching and Schwartzman was getting a little bit upset at them cheering me. It was good to get over the line.”

Top seed Karolina Pliskova dropped serve in her first game but recovered to dispose of Ukrainian Anhelina Kalinina. The Czech world No 3, promoted to top billing following the withdrawals of Ash Barty and Simona Halep, won 6-4 6-0 in just over an hour.

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Germany’s 17th seed Angelique Kerber reached the second round by beating Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia. The 2018 Wimbledon champion won 6-4 6-4.

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