Andy Murray shows he can still compete at highest level
As Andy Murray reflected on the effort that helped him to push the third seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas, deep into a fifth set in nearly five hours of gripping, high-quality tennis at the US Open, his immediate reaction was of bitter disappointment.
“I know I’m capable of playing that tennis,” he said after his 2-6, 7-6(7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 defeat. “I need to spend time on the court, getting the chance to play against these guys. Ultimately, when I get on the court with them I need to prove it. I guess tonight I proved some things to a certain extent.”
He ended with a deep sigh. “But I’m really, really disappointed. Really disappointed after that. Frustrated, all those things. Really disappointed.”
Such vexation is expected from a competitive animal such as Murray but, as pivotal as winning or losing feels in the moment, such a defeat makes little difference to the bigger picture. Far more important was what Murray did prove. For most of the match the level he produced with his metal hip and all of the injury niggles that have suffocated him for the past 20 months was enough.
Murray maddened Tsitsipas with his movement, his game flowed in moments of pure instinctive freedom, sifting through his vast arsenal of shots and finding the right decision. His serve, which he has adjusted, was quicker and extremely effective in parts. Given the way he lost the second-set tiebreak, preoccupied with his sweaty, slippery footwear, he could have won in three sets.
This is only one match, and hyperbole is not helpful, but this is the clearest sign there is much more to unlock in his game during this part of his career. The aim now for Murray should simply be to continue training at a high level and then look towards the coming European indoor swing as an opportunity to continue building his level.
The question of whether he can continue to progress without once again being disrupted by physical issues remains but after many months of affirming he still believes he is capable of playing at a high level that is now an undeniable fact.
What should have been a feel good story for all was overshadowed by drama and the familiar subject of bathroom breaks. Players have forever been accused of using them cynically, along with medical timeouts, in order to break the opponent’s momentum.
Before the fifth set, Tsitsipas kept Murray waiting for more than seven minutes during his bathroom break, enraging Murray in the process.
Tsitsipas’s reputation is growing on this subject. In his previous match, Alexander Zverev accused him of cheating by using his phone to text his father during a long bathroom break at the Cincinnati Masters 1000. This time Murray was frustrated by the length of Tsitsipas’s delay. He said he had prepared mentally for the breaks but “you cannot stop the way that that affects you physically”, adding: “When you’re playing a brutal match like that, stopping for seven, eight minutes, you do cool down.”
Throughout the fifth set, Murray had a running conversation with the tournament supervisor, Gerry Armstrong, accusing Tsitsipas of cheating.
Plenty have had their say. Tsitsipas’s brother, Petros, mentioned Murray on Instagram with a home emoji next to his name and Milos Raonic unexpectedly jumped on Twitter just to type three words: “Andy is right!”
Tsitsipas said he had changed his clothes and argued that he had followed the rules, which allow for two changes in a five-set match.
Murray was unmoved. “Rather than talking about how fantastic he is, how good he is for the game, how great it was for me that I was able to put on a performance like that after everything that’s gone on the last four years, I’m sitting in here talking about bathroom breaks and medical timeouts and delays in matches. That’s rubbish.”
Murray said he was wary of coming into his press conference because he knew it would dominate discussion and it may seem like sour grapes. “I would have said the same thing if I’d won, I promise. It was nonsense and he knows it.”
The morning after, just past 8am in New York, Murray woke up with a few more thoughts: “Fact of the day. It takes Stefanos Tsitsipas twice as long to go the bathroom as it takes Jeff Bazos [sic] to fly into space. Interesting,” he wrote on Twitter, ending with a toilet and rocket emoji.
In time, the sense of injustice will abate and he will be able to reflect on and build on his efforts as he took a sizeable step forward deep into the New York night.