Andy Murray was ready to fight at US Open, but he wasn't ready to win

by: Zach Cohen | August 29, 2018

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WATCH—Players discuss the extreme conditions at this year's US Open: 

NEW YORK—Earlier this week, Andy Murray made it clear that he was not going to be a contender at the US Open. On Wednesday, the former world No. 1 proved that he knows himself better than anybody else. 

The three-time Grand Slam champion faced Fernando Verdasco in the second round of the tournament, and Murray lost the match, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. 

"I think some of the tennis I played today was some of the best I've played since I had the surgery or since I came back," Murray said. "But there were also periods in the match, especially in the first set, where I really didn't play particularly well. I hit a lot of mistakes when I was up in that set."

Though Murray may not have expected much from himself, the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium still treated him like the former champion he is. Thirty seconds couldn't go by without hearing a "Come on, Andy!"and, in the biggest moments of the match, the crowd was constantly ready to erupt for the Brit. 

Murray heard their cheers on another sweltering day in Flushing Meadows, and he wasn't going to go down without a fight. He gave it everything that he had, earning five break-point chances when Verdasco served for the match.

In the end, one thing was clear: Murray's game just isn't quite there yet. Verdasco hit 52 winners to Murray's 35. Not to slight the 34-year-old Spaniard, but that disparity is unlikely to happen against a 2016 version of Murray. 

"I was trying to play more offensively, and I made more mistakes than I usually would," Murray said. "So it's difficult sometimes to get the balance when you haven't played as much matches, haven't practiced as much as you would like."

Another telling statistic was Murray cashing in on only six of his 15 break-point opportunities, while Verdasco won seven of his 10. That's a clear sign of rust from Murray, who returned to the court earlier this summer but hadn't felt the pressure and grind of a Grand Slam in nearly 14 months.

Novak Djokovic similarly struggled to find a killer instinct at the onset of his return from an elbow injury. And like Djokovic, Murray has shown enough flashes over the past few months to signal that he could soon find has way back to the top of men's game. 

"If things keep going smoothly, physically I continue to improve, I believe that I will get back to competing for the biggest competitions because there's no reason why I couldn't," Murray said. 

For all of the mistakes that Murray made against Verdasco on Wednesday—46 in total—there was plenty to be encouraged about. His movement was especially impressive throughout the first couple of sets, as the 31-year-old was covering the court as well as he ever has. The issue was that too many shots were finding the tape, and too many service games uncharacteristically got away from him. 

What also doomed Murray was his conditioning. It's been a long time since he has competed in a best-of-five set format, and it's been a long time since he has played this many tournaments—three in the past five weeks—in such a small timeframe. Fortunately, conditioning will improve over time. It's hard to imagine it not being where it needs to be in 2019.  

"It was a tough match for me physically because of the conditions and having played over three hours the other day," Murray said. "It's still quite early in this process for me. I did all right. I chased balls down right to the end of the match. I wasn't giving up on points. It wasn't the most comfortable I felt on a tennis court. I got through it and fought right to the end."

As for Verdasco, it was an impressive win in front of a crowd that was largely behind Murray. He'll look to use that experience in his next match, against the popular Juan Martin del Potro in the third round. 

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