NEW YORK—We now know that the mantel of Olympic champion hasn't transformed Andy Murray, at least not in one crucial and often frustrating respect: He's still prone to the sluggish, almost indifferent tournament start, even at a Grand Slam.
That's what transpired in the first round of the U.S. Open this afternoon following a lengthy storm. But after the clouds parted and the courts were dried on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the Brit, seeded third here, eventually defeated Russia's Alex Bogomolov, Jr., 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.
The opening minutes of this two-hour and 15-minute mess—the players combined for a total of 66 unforced errors—one-sided only in score, were noteworthy for the fact that neither combatant held serve until the fifth game. Groundstrokes were sprayed far and wide, drop shots fell short, and—in one moment that summed things up—Murray, with the entire court open before him, poked a volley into the net from just a few feet away. It prompted commentator John McEnroe to call his effort to that point “lazy.”
In the fifth game, Murray roused himself, finding his range, and finally held serve. In the next game, he broke with an exquisite backhand pass down the line, then ran out the set on a passage of in-form play, an all-too-short glimpse of the crafty, confident terminator we saw in London on two occasions last month.
We also now know that the mantel of Olympic champion won’t keep Murray from going on a walkabout once in apparent control of a match, as he did at the outset of the second set. He dropped serve in the first game and quickly fell behind 1-3 to an emboldened Bogomolov, who, if nothing else, showed his impressive retrieving game to full effect for long stretches. Which frustrated Murray, of course. Though the Scot has given up muttering at his player’s box (you can thank the stern and watchful eye of coach Ivan Lendl for that), he still showed off his old repertoire of stage business: Shrugging, throwing up his arms as winners whizzed past him as though he’d been sent to the wrong part of the court by an absent-minded assistant, and smacking his racket on the court. But, just as Murray pulled things together in the fifth game of the first set, he tightened things up at the same point in the second, only allowing the 73rd-ranked Bogomolov one more game.
By this point, it was clear that for all the strum and drang on display, Murray wasn’t going to lose against his overmatched opponent, but he wasn’t necessarily going to put full mental effort into getting the job done economically. In the second game of the third set, by which time a sense of inevitability had finally descended over the court, Murray blew a break point, and yelled at himself to “Focus!”
“Finally!” replied one spectator.
Adding to the melodrama of the day, before the third set was completed, the specter of injury, or illness, appeared on both sides of the net. Down 1-2, Bogomolov consulted with both a trainer and a doctor, but dismissed both with no treatment beyond an ice bag. More dramatically, up 3-1, Murray scampered to the net in hot pursuit of a short ball and came up lame, bending down to stretch his hamstring. He continued to stretch it for several seconds, then stutter-stepped to the back of the court. For a moment, it seemed that one of the tournament’s three favorites might be in dire straits. But he shook it off, held serve, and did not call for the trainer on the changeover. Within minutes, he had finished Bogomolov off. (In his on-court interview, Murray said that he had cramped a bit, and needed to watch his hydration.)
At the end of the day, for all the sloppiness on display, for all the nicked racquets and shoulder shrugging and hunched shoulders and head shakes, for all the shouted self-exhortations and dramatic stretching at the finish line—or maybe because of those things—this was an Andy Murray first-round match. Nothing less, and certainly nothing more.