Murray might have needed hip resurfacing surgery to save his career but his reserves were there for all to see as he rallied Tuesday from two sets down and saved a match point to defeat Japanese shot maker Yoshihito Nishioka 4-6 4-6 7-6 (5) 7-6 (4) 6-4 in four hours, 39 minutes in New York.
It was indeed some escape for Murray, who also trailed the left-hander 3-1 in the third, took a medical time out for a toe issue to end the fourth and was behind by a break at 3-2 in the fifth.
Ultimately, Murray played the big points better on Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New York, going 4-for-6 on break points compared to the 49th-ranked Nishioka’s 5-for-16 in their first meeting.
That included saving the match point at 5-6 in the fourth when Nishioka sent his return from a first serve long.
Murray became the second British player in as many days to fend off a match point and rally from two sets down after Cameron Norrie did the same against Diego Schwartzman.
The three-time grand slam champion last contested a singles grand slam match at the 2019 Australian Open in what many thought would be his final tournament.
Hampered severely by hip issues, the Scot said prior to Melbourne he was calling it quits but hoped to bid adieu at his home grand slam tournament, Wimbledon.
But after taking one of the game’s toughest competitors, Roberto Bautista Agut, to five sets — yes, five more sets — the father of three opted for the hip resurfacing operation in an attempt to keep things going.
Promising showing last week
It hasn’t been smooth sailing since — his lone grand slam action since the surgery came in doubles at Wimbledon in 2019 — but Murray upset Alexander Zverev at last week’s warmup Western & Southern Open.
The Western & Southern Open was also held on the grounds of the US Open as part of tennis’ much discussed bubble, rather than in its usual home near Cincinnati, Ohio.
No fans are on site due to the coronavirus pandemic but the likes of Naomi Osaka, Dominic Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov took in the action from their luxury corporate suites on center court. All seeded players in singles were given the vacant suites.
Murray shook his fist after Nishioka’s overhead from a superb lob landed long on the final point. He hadn’t tasted victory at a grand slam in singles since the 2018 US Open.
Murray has loved playing at the tournament ever since he won the juniors in 2004. His slam breakthrough came at Flushing Meadows in 2012 and he has now come back from two-set deficits four times at the US Open, more than at any other slam.
Three have come against left-handers.
Dedicates win to Suarez Navarro
Two-time grand slam winner Garbine Muguruza played her first match since February and downed another Japanese player, Nao Hibino, 6-4 6-4 earlier Tuesday.
The former world No. 6 with the glorious one-handed backhand is one of the tour’s most liked players.
“When we spoke a few days ago, when she gave me the news, I was, I think, shocked, because I was expecting to see her in this tournament,” Muguruza said to reporters. “She’s such a nice woman, so sweet, so kind, so humble.
“When these things happen to these good people, I feel so sad about it. So I know she was watching my match, and we talked a little bit.
“I, for sure, will dedicate this win to her, because I want her to feel that we are behind her, that I am behind her, and I will go and see her at some point when it is fine.”
Serena Williams, who played mixed doubles with Murray at Wimbledon last year, opens her bid for a 24th major when she meets Kristie Ahn later Tuesday.
Williams’ buildup has been marked by upset losses last week and also in Lexington, Kentucky, but the American has never lost, like Murray, in the first round of the US Open.