As so typically, Andy Murray knew what he was speaking about.
“I do feel there will be a lot of upsets,” Murray mentioned simply earlier than the males’s tennis tour ended its five-month hiatus.
On a steamy Monday in Queens, he went out and proved himself proper by upsetting the No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev, 6-Three, Three-6, 7-5, in the second spherical of the Western & Southern Open.
“It would have been a tough one to lose,” mentioned the unseeded Murray, who surrendered a Four-1 third-set lead earlier than Zverev’s shaky serve and Murray’s grit and expertise lastly made the distinction.
In their solely earlier match, Murray’s breeze of a straight-set victory over Zverev was something however a shock. It got here in the first spherical of the Australian Open in 2016 when Zverev was nonetheless a teen and Murray, on his solution to a knighthood and a No. 1 rating, was nonetheless an uncontested member of the so-called Big Four, together with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
But that was earlier than Murray’s hip issues nearly knocked him out of the sport for good, earlier than he stared into his digicam cellphone in the center of the evening in Washington, D.C., in the summer time of 2018 and tearfully admitted that it felt “like the end for me.”
“My body just doesn’t want to do it anymore, and my mind doesn’t want to push through the pain barrier anymore,” he mentioned, his face illuminated in the darkish like one thing out of “The Blair Witch Project.”
That soliloquy was after one hip operation, however he would in the end resolve to strive a second process — this one a “resurfacing” in which a skinny layer of broken bone was shaved off the ball of the hip joint and changed with a steel cobalt-chrome cap. A steel socket can be put in place.
The surgical procedure had already saved the profession of Bob Bryan, the American doubles star. Bryan’s surgeon, Edwin Su, spoke to Murray earlier than he determined to go forward with the surgical procedure and advised him that he, too, was a super candidate due to his health and youth.
Sarah Muirhead-Allwood, a number one British hip surgeon, carried out the operation in January 2019 in London.
Despite the grinding nature of tennis footwork, with its fast shifts of route and repetitive motions, Su was satisfied that if Bryan might play doubles on tour, Murray might take it a step additional and play singles.
“I’m so glad to be right about that,” Su mentioned in a phone interview Monday as he watched Murray’s victory over Zverev on tv, the solely choice for followers in this unusual 12 months. “I love to always see the ultimate potential of the implant that I use on a regular basis, and Andy’s really testing it to the limits, for sure.”
The victory over the seventh-ranked Zverev was Murray’s first over a high 10 participant since 2017, when he beat No. 9 Kei Nishikori in the quarterfinals of the French Open.
Finishing off Zverev was a collective effort. Murray misplaced 4 straight video games from Four-1 in the third. Zverev served for the match at 5-Four, solely to expertise a much less inspirational type of resurfacing: the return of the second-serve yips that have been a serious concern earlier than the pandemic.
Two factors from the match at 30-30, he double-faulted on three of the subsequent 4 factors to lose his serve. After Murray held to go forward, 6-5, Zverev double-faulted twice extra to open his subsequent service sport.
“I mean, this is the thing I was working on for the past six months,” Zverev mentioned. “In the important moments, I think it went again.”
But Murray nonetheless needed to produce some brilliance on the transfer. He sprinted throughout the court docket to run down a slicing backhand volley and hit a forehand passing shot down the line for a winner to get to match level. He transformed it with a clear backhand return winner down the line off a second serve.
Court protection was certainly one of the pillars of Murray’s bodily sport in his prime. Although Jim Courier, the former No. 1 who’s now a Tennis Channel analyst, thinks Murray “doesn’t get into the corners with the same speed he has in the past,” the distinction was laborious to discern on Monday.
“I was very surprised with how he was moving,” mentioned Zverev, who repeatedly examined Murray’s mobility with drop pictures. “He’s moving quite fine, quite normal.”
But whereas Murray’s groans as he gave chase have been extra audible than typical in the absence of spectators, sprinting the size of the court docket was again to being a pleasure in any case the ache.
“I was happy with how I played,” he mentioned. “It was really good at points, and it wasn’t so good. But I guess I should probably be expecting that a little bit, because of the lack of matches, especially against higher-level opposition.”
Murray, ranked 134th, got here again final 12 months and received the European Open in October in Antwerp, Belgium, however has not performed a tour occasion since November. He was out with a pelvic harm in early 2020 when Zverev was reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open in January.
“In the end, sport is about finding a way to win even when you are not playing your best, and I did that today,” he mentioned. “That’s a good sign if you can beat someone ranked in the top 10 in the world not playing your best.”
Murray is now 2-Zero in 2020 after defeating Frances Tiafoe of the United States in one other three-setter in the first spherical. Next up in the spherical of 16: a rematch of the match that gave Murray a second Wimbledon singles title.
It got here in opposition to the big-serving Milos Raonic in the ultimate in 2016, and Raonic will likely be throughout the web Tuesday on a hardcourt as an alternative of on grass, and with empty seats as an alternative of a full home.
It is an odd setting, one which thus far appears to present an edge to the underdog. Dominic Thiem, the No. 2 males’s seed, was overwhelmed, 6-2, 6-1, by unseeded Filip Krajinovic on Monday in Thiem’s first match again on the tour.
The high two seeds in the girls’s occasion — Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin — are already out, and the No. Three seed, Serena Williams, got here inside two factors of defeat on three events in opposition to the 72nd-ranked Arantxa Rus on Monday earlier than salvaging a 7-6 (6), Three-6, 7-6 (Zero) victory.
“There’s going to be a lot of scratchy matches in the first few tournaments,” mentioned Zverev, whose subsequent singles match will likely be in the United States Open, which begins on Aug. 31.
Murray, nonetheless an underdog for now, will get to maintain on taking part in and making ready.
“I’m going to text him and see how the hip feels,” Su mentioned on Monday evening. “So curious.”