Andy Murray left the US Open on Wednesday night, courtesy of a four-set loss against the powerful Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. But not before prompting one of the many controversies that have followed his dramatic career.
Murray was furious that tournament officials had allowed Verdasco to consult with his team members during the 10-minute heat break that the players are being allowed at the end of the third set. When he returned to the court, he raged at chair umpire Nico Helwerth, saying: “Verdasco is in the locker-room with both coach and trainer, the referee and supervisor are just twiddling their thumbs. I had to tell them because no-one knows the f—ing rules.”
Murray expanded on his frustration after the match, saying: “You’ve got to do better than that, this is one of the biggest events in the world, and if one of the players is allowed to speak to their coach and the other isn’t, it’s not fair.”
Verdasco denied he was talking to his coach, saying he was only there to go to the toilet.
“I was in the ice bath with Marcos Baghdatis and his coach,” Verdasco said. “I don’t want to say that Andy lied, but I didn’t talk one word with my coach or any one member of my team.
“I know exactly the rule and I don’t want to be the one breaking it.”
Murray then departed the US Open with a parting shot, writing on Instagram that he was “off to get a health check as apparently I’ve started imagining things”.
The return of a fiery and feisty Murray to Arthur Ashe Stadium felt like a landmark moment. He is still not the man who lifted the title here six years ago. How could he be, when he has played only nine matches on the tour since last year’s Wimbledon?
But the tennis is in there. And it took the provocation of Verdasco’s heat-break consultation – which is forbidden by tournament rules – to bring it out.
In the first few games of the fourth set, Murray was unloading on the ball. We saw a rare example of the backhand winner up the line – once a trademark, but more of an endangered species since the hip operation – and a level of intensity that has not been present in the last couple of months. This is a big event, and it brought a big performance out of Murray: the best indication yet that he is working his way back towards the upper reaches of the sport.
One point early in the fourth set reminded us of the defensive gifts this great athlete still possesses. Murray put up two successive lobs from an apparently impossible position, then chased down a drop shot to put away a forehand crosscourt winner. He held up a clenched fist for a good five seconds, feeding off the crowd’s energy, as he relished a flashback to the good old days.
That fourth set was all the more impressive because, by the early stages of the second, Murray had looked physically spent. His limp was severe, and as he bent over to return serve, he almost looked as if he might collapse. Yet he was still moving well enough to pressurise Verdasco, who suffered a mental lapse and lost his serve twice in a row, allowing the match to be levelled.
For Murray, the start of the third set was even worse. He suffered an obvious physical letdown at this moment, losing four out of the first five games. Only after changing his shirt, which was drenched with sweat, did he find some inspiration and force Verdasco to serve out the set at 5-4. But it was too late, and he went into the 10-minute break facing a 2-1 deficit.
Verdasco trailed Murray 13-1 in their previous head-to-head meetings and had not always closed out strong positions in the past. The Wimbledon quarter-final of 2013 is one excellent example, as Murray came back from a two-set deficit to keep his title dream alive – a dream he eventually realised by overcoming Novak Djokovic in the final.
But Verdasco was not going to be denied on Wednesday. He knew that the Murray he used to face is still short of optimum form and fitness and that there are certain shots he is not hitting any more. Prime among these is the kick serve, which Murray stopped using when his hip was at his most painful and has yet to return to his repertoire.
So it was that Verdasco produced an almost flawless fourth set to close out his 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory in 3hr 22min. Apart from a couple of shaky double-faults at the death, he more than earned his third-round meeting with Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion here, saving five break points to serve out his win in a horribly tense 12-minute final game.
Murray, though, can take so much encouragement from that extraordinary fourth set – a period when he conjured up the spirit of his old self like a magician bringing his assistant back to life.
Murray was only a few seconds away from being the last Briton standing in the singles draws at this tournament – an honour he used to secure as a formality in each grand slam he played. As it happened, though, the British No. 3 Cameron Norrie lasted perhaps a minute longer before falling to Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic by a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 scoreline.
Source: The Telegraph