Andy Murray comes back from brink of defeat to win five-set thriller at US Open

Scot defeats Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in four hours and 39 minutes
Andy Murray reacts during his win over Yoshihito Nishioka.Andy Murray reacts during his win over Yoshihito Nishioka.
Andy Murray reacts during his win over Yoshihito Nishioka.

This is what Andy Murray has been waiting for for three painful years. Since his hip gave out in the summer of 2017, the former world No.1 has allowed himself to dream of maybe one day coming back to the biggest stages in the world and putting on one of those rip-roaring five-setters, the ones that have the crowd on the feet and cheering in appreciation.

His dream came true on Tuesday. Sure enough, there was no crowd in the Covid-free Arthur Ashe Stadium but over the course of four hours and 39 minutes, he came back from the very brink of defeat, launched a comeback that no one believed could be possible after two operations on his right hip and beat Yoshihito Nishioka 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the first round of the US Open.

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In the build-up to his first major championship since January last year, he claimed to be ‘excited’, to be ‘pumped’ to be back; he said as much again as he walked on court yesterday. But when it came to the business of playing, Murray looked anything but. For the first hour and three quarters, he was lethargic, flat footed and lacked any sort of spark or fire. And by that stage he was two sets and a break of serve in arrears.

All the while, his coach Jamie Delgado was taking a verbal battering. Everything was Delgado’s fault, according to Murray. But that has always been his way: whoever sits in the coaching hotseat has to take the Murray back chat. But as the Scot looked for something to fire him up, something to get his game going (and having a go at his team seemed as good a way as any) he was running out of time.

Yet for all the problems he was facing – and Nishioka is a complicated problem – and for all the trials and tribulations he has been through in the past few years, his pride remains as strong and resilient as ever. And so began the comeback.

Nishioka is the world No.49 and standing at just 5ft 7ins, he is not what you might call a giant of the game. But he is fast and that foot speed allows him to cover every inch of the court in the blinking of an eye and no ball is left unchased. It also gives him confidence in his defensive abilities while his forehand, a shot of real venom, allows him to attack.

What he lacks in height, the Japanese more than makes up for in nous – he finds every possible angle on the court – and when needs to, he knows how to volley. He is just the sort of opponent a 33-year-old with a tin hip would rather avoid in his first match back in the big time.

Andy Murray serves to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan.Andy Murray serves to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan.
Andy Murray serves to Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan.

At the start of the match, Murray’s first serve was non-existent and his unforced error count was rising with every game. But as Nishioka moved to within touching distance of the second round, Murray bolted down his concentration, ramped up the speed on his forehand and started to clatter his first serve. Suddenly he was constructing points with craft and experience. He was looking like the Murray of old.

Forcing the third set into a tiebreak, the Scot went on the offensive. He bullied and pounded the diminutive Japanese and he got his reward of a fourth set. He did exactly the same to take the fourth set on another tiebreak – saving a match point and hurting his big toe along the way – and now anything seemed possible.

Even when he was a break down in the decider, Murray broke straight back. Even when he seemed to be running on fumes, he still found a few extra ounces of muscle to put into his serves and his forehand. And even when no one would have given him a hope after the first two sets, he still found a way to win. This is what dreams are made of.

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