UPDATE: Andy Murray has withdrawn from his quarterfinal match against Alex De Minaur.
WATCH—Andy Murray's emotional reaction to his three-hour, three-set, 3 A.M. victory at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.:
“Is the Big 4 era starting over?” That’s the question I posed three weeks ago at Wimbledon, after watching Novak Djokovic follow Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal back into the Grand Slam winner’s circle. The idea was meant to sound ridiculous, of course, but I found myself asking it all over again at 3:00 a.m. on Friday morning.
Until this week, the only member of the Big 4 who hadn’t made a stirring comeback after the age of 30 was Andy Murray. The former No. 1—now ranked No. 832—had been sidelined for 12 months with a hip injury, and his return from surgery had been painfully slow in all ways. When Murray was forced to skip his home Slam at Wimbledon last month, I began to wonder if he would ever make it back. Not everyone can do what Roger, Rafa and Novak have done, and return to glory at such an advanced tennis age, right?
After a long, hot, rainy, frustrating week at the Citi Open, Murray’s body may not yet have answered that question, but his heart certainly has. He hasn’t won a major event, or even a minor event. He hasn’t come close to playing his best, nor has he dazzled us with his variety of shot-making skills. He might not even be fit enough to play his quarterfinal on Friday night. But Murray’s performance so far in D.C., which culminated in tears of exhaustion after his win over Marius Copil at 3:00 A.M. this morning, has made us appreciate again what’s most important about him: His raw dedication to his profession.
Murray has played three matches in mostly searing humidity, and he has won them all in three sets.
In the first round, against Mackenzie MacDonald, Murray lost the first set and appeared destined to lose the second as well. He hobbled a little between points, and struggled to generate pace on his second serve or his ground strokes. Murray was reduced, mostly, to putting the ball back in play and hoping his young opponent got tight. But you make the most of what you have, right? It worked, and Murray snuck through when McDonald made a few crucial mistakes late in the third set:
In the second round, against his Davis Cup teammate Kyle Edmund, Murray again looked like he was heading for the exit. After he won the first set in a tiebreaker, everything fell apart in the second set, which he lost 6-1. Surely Edmund had too much firepower for Murray in his current state. But again, Murray did just what he needed to do. He wrested control of key rallies down the stretch, and closed with a backhand winner:
In the third round, Murray had to do it all over again versus Copil, this time starting at midnight, and this time for three hours. Again, things didn’t look promising. Murray struggled to hold serve, or to make any inroads on Copil’s serve, and he squandered a 5-0 lead in the first-set tiebreaker. But despite that, and despite hitting far fewer winners than his opponent, Murray found a way through in a third-set tiebreaker.
Throughout the week, Murray bunted his backhand, looped his forehand, and sliced his serve instead of pounding it. He has played with lots of margin and safety when he couldn’t find the corners of the court. He has pumped his fist and manufactured momentum when none seemed to be available. Most of all, he has made his less-accomplished opponents beat him, and none of them could do it. After the last point against Copil, Murray declined to celebrate. Instead, he walked off the court, put his face in a towel, and cried for two minutes. The tears kept coming as he signed autographs on his way off the court.
Murray has never been a showman like his Big 4 compatriots. His game, in many ways, is about deliberately not risking showmanship—no one has more shots or tricks that he doesn’t use than Murray. And as far as his on-court demeanor goes, we knew he was back not when we saw him raise his first in celebration, but when we heard him muttering and berating himself after a miss.
Yet Murray, in his effort and his tears, put on the show of the week in D.C., and reminded us of why he was missed: At a time when the desire of some players is in question, this 32-year-old was willing to do whatever it took—surgery, a year of rehab, a match until 3:00 in the morning—just to be able to put it all on the line and compete again. That—as much as the titles and the rankings and the fame—is what the Big 4 era has been all about.
ATP & WTA Washington D.C.
Catch all the action from the Citi Open with live coverage from three courts on Tennis Channel Plus beginning Monday, July 30th at 2:00 PM ET. All matches also available on-demand.