When Andy Murray beat Feliciano Lopez in the third round of the US Open in 2011, an 11-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime was watching from the stands.
On Thursday, Murray will face the exciting Canadian prospect across the net at the same venue as he continues his grand slam singles comeback.
Auger-Aliassime, now 20 and ranked 21 in the world, recalled: “I was just a kid. We got tickets for Arthur Ashe Stadium. Andy was playing Lopez in the night match. I got to see him there in the third round. That was a big memory of mine. I was actually live here.
“It’s crazy to feel today there’s not going to be a kid in the stadium watching, it’s actually going to be me playing. Yeah, so it’s a nice feeling.”
Murray’s marathon five-set first-round win over Yoshihito Nishioka, in his first grand slam singles match since career-saving hip surgery, created a buzz among his fellow players.
Auger-Aliassime was among those who came out to watch the Scot come from two sets and a break down to secure a remarkable victory.
“I watched the whole way of his recovery. It’s good to see him playing good again and healthy. It’s an honour for me to face up with a guy like Andy,” he added.
“I was in my suite so it was pretty natural to watch the match. It happened that it was my next opponent.”
Recovery will be key for the three-time grand slam champion when he takes on a top-20 player, 13 years his junior, so early in his comeback.
“I guess that was the thing I was most happy with, that I lasted,” Murray said. “I guess that was probably my biggest doubt going in and the biggest answer I got from the match. (Auger-Aliassime) hits a big ball. He moves well. I hit with him once in Beijing last year. He’s getting up to the top of the game. I think he quite obviously likes playing on the hard courts.
“He’s had some struggles with his serve at times. That’s something that I’ll look to capitalise on. But he’s a top, top young player. He’ll have an excellent, excellent career for sure. He’s been really good since he was very young. I think physically he’s a fantastic mover, a good athlete. He’s developed fast.”
Murray’s return to the grand slam arena after a 19-month absence has created a buzz at Flushings Meadows. And while there are no fans allowed into this US Open because of the pandemic, fellow pros made their way into the stands to see the 2012 champion save a match point Tuesday and, eventually, win.
“It was pretty emotional straight after the match finished, when I got back to the locker room – sort of look at my phone, see the messages from family and friends, the team and stuff,” admitted the Scot. “They’re the people that have kind of seen me go through everything, been there, seen the tough times. I don’t know how many of us actually believed I’d be back kind of winning matches like that.”
Murray’s big concern after the match was whether he could get permission to use the ice bath in the Ashe locker room.
“They said it’s for emergencies. For me, this is an emergency right now. My body hurts,” said the 33-year-old, who was treated for blisters on his two big toes by a trainer during a medical timeout. “That’s by far the most tennis I’ve played since 2019, really.”
And so many of the sport’s biggest names were there to witness it.
Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem, Naomi Osaka, Garbine Muguruza, as well as Auger-Aliassime, all took in the action on Arthur Ashe.
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