The signs are positive. Andy Murray is out of the US Open, beaten in the second round by Fernando Verdasco, but some of the tennis he played on Wednesday and the way in which he competed for the best part of three and a half hours in the stifling heat was a huge step forward on his road back to his best.
Murray lost 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 but there were times when he was cracking his backhand, flinging himself into running forehand winners and nailing his returns that seemed like the good old days. There were mistakes, far too many mistakes for his liking, but there was a lot of good stuff in those four sets, too.
“I think some of the tennis I played today was some of the best I’ve played since I had the surgery or since I came back,” Murray said. “But there were also periods in the match, especially in the first set, where I really didn’t play particularly well. I hit a lot of mistakes when I was up in that set. I feel like I should have won the first set and didn’t.
“Then kind of at the end when my back was against the wall, I came up with some good tennis to make it close and interesting at the end and almost got myself back into it. There were too many ups and downs for my liking.”
There were many things that were not to his liking, the enforcing of the extreme heat rule for one. The past few days in New York have been extremely hot and humid so the Open has introduced a new policy for the men’s matches allowing a ten-minute break between the third and fourth sets. It is the first time such a rule has been used for the men’s tour (the women have had their own heat policy for years) and it is one that appears to have been cobbled together at the last minute, one that no one knows exactly how to implement.
The rule states that the player can leave the court and go wherever he wishes and do almost whatever he wants: shower, ice bath, change of clothes. But no player is allowed to have medical treatment or to talk to his coach during that ten minutes. But when Murray went back to the locker room, he saw Verdasco talking to his team, causing Murray to call the tournament supervisor in to sort the matter out. Verdasco maintained his innocence.
“You’ve got to do better than that,” Murray said. “This is one of the biggest events in the world. If you have rules like that, you need to stick with them because one player getting to speak to the coach and the other not is not fair.”
Whatever the rights and wrongs of that incident, it did not affect the outcome of the match. In the fourth set, Verdasco was that bit better and hung on as Murray threw everything he could think of at the Spaniard for 12 minutes in the final game. Had Murray been more consistent earlier, maybe he would have won but consistency comes with playing lots of matches and that just takes time.
“It was a tough match for me physically because of the conditions and having played over three hours the other day [in the first round],” he said. “This is still quite early in the process for me. I did all right. I chased balls down right to the end of the match. I wasn’t giving up on points. It wasn’t the most comfortable I felt on a tennis court. I got through it and fought right to the end.
“To sort of still be doing as well as I was at the end of the match, considering the lack of practice and matches that I’ve had, was positive.”
It was looking good for Leon Smith, Britain’s Davis Cup captain, too. In a little more than two weeks, Smith will take his team to Glasgow to face Uzbekistan in the Davis Cup World Group play-off. To have Murray back in the side for the first time in two years would not only strengthen the team but also boost confidence. After Murray has had a day or so to assess his physical condition after two four-set matches in three days, Smith is quietly confident that his man will turn up for duty. “I’m fairly hopeful,” he said with a smile.
The signs are looking positive indeed.