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Saturday, October 16, 2021

US Open 2021: the return of the unbreakable Andy Murray on familiar ground

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A touch of nostalgia and well-placed pride must have won the mind of Andy Murray on August 9th. The withdrawal of Swiss Stan Wawrinka, also a former winner in 2016 in the “Big Apple” and undergoing a new operation on his left foot, propelled him without going through the box “wild-card” in the main draw of the last Major of the season. The result of a long comeback to the surface, at 34, after having announced the intention to stop his career at the 2019 Australian Open.

A final burst of pride for the one who was world number 1 in 2016 and triple Grand Slam winner with two Wimbledons (2013, 2016) and a US Open (2012) on the clock. Far from the achievements of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, his charisma and his eternal “fighting spirit” have marked the last decade and have not left indifferent, far from it. Opposed to the Greek and world number 4, Stéfanos Tsitsipas, in the shock of the first round, the opportunity will be given to the current 112th world to go back in time on the Arthur-Ashe court, Monday August 30.

Eight years after his first title at Flushing Meadows, Andy Murray is back to continue his career often undermined by wounds and from which he finally seems to be rid of. A first for a long time for the Scotsman who lost last year to Félix Auger-Aliassime in the second round of the New York fortnight. His volcanic character on the court is still there after years of hardship, marked by two hip surgeries in 2018 and 2019. The Briton has had to pass the tests with all his strength since 2017, being sent beyond the Top 100 at the end of the 2018 season: a first since 2005. His title in Antwerp against Stan Wawrinka in October 2019 partially responded to the usefulness of such a return to the highest level.

The Covid-19 and the long period of shutdown from the ATP circuit last season also allowed him to recover mentally with two stealth appearances at the US Open and Roland Garros. Without having the fear of returning to the Challenger box, Andy Murray passed the overdrive in 2021 with several preparation tournaments to his credit. A final at the Italian Challenger tournament in Biella in February instead of the Australian Open because of a positive test: a choice that paid off to regain confidence and prepare accordingly for his favorite tournament, Wimbledon, that he had not played since 2017.

In a positive dynamic over the last six months, the two-time Olympic champion has gone through matches to regain a density and endurance which have been his strength in his best years. Even if the results are still pending with 6 wins and 6 losses this year, there is no physical alert to report. After a second round at Queen’s, eliminated by the Italian Matteo Berrettini, future winner of the tournament, and a third round on the Wimbledon Center Court, defeated in four sets by the Canadian Denis Shapovalov, semi-finalist thereafter, Andy Murray spoke of frustration but also of satisfaction. That of being finally relieved of the weight of injuries.

“I did a week of Grand Slam without getting injured so it’s positive for me. Getting through Wimbledon without hurting myself was a good thing, although I still feel that I can do better with my level of Game”, he concluded at a press conference after his defeat. It must be said that the Scotsman is a showman on the court, he who now makes the Grand Slams his ultimate outlet to enjoy and hope to bring down headliners as in the great era.

Eternal dissatisfied, the three-time Major winner already had his short-term future in the back of his mind after the London tournament: “There is a part of me that thinks to itself that I have worked so hard over the past three months that I finally didn’t play the way I wanted and hoped… Is it all worth it?“Without having played in the Olympic Games in Tokyo to defend his singles title there, the current 112th player in the world is taking small steps. Former British player Greg Rusedski remains skeptical: “I’m worried about Andy’s health. I’ve had injuries in my career and it’s hard to keep coming back. […] He has nothing more to prove to our sport. If he can be in good health by the Paris Masters, he will have the answer to his question “, he explained to the site Tennis365.

His last two preparatory tournaments for the US Open, on the side of Cincinnati with a victory over Richard Gasquet and Winston-Salem, proved that in a match anything is still possible. He who relies on the public to reverse situations more than impossible has the opportunity to achieve a final masterstroke with the challenge of dismissing the number 3 seed, Stéfanos Tsitsipas, finalist at Roland Garros. A capital objective to hope to be permanently reborn from the ashes in front of the more than 23,000 spectators of the biggest court in the world. Not enough to put pressure on Andy Murray, he who has never lost in the first round in fourteen appearances in the “Big Apple”.



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