It is good to see Andy Murray back again. The relaxed, cheery soul who won his opening match on Tuesday looked like Britain's top player, but it was not really him. The slightly grumpy, grimly determined bloke who beat Jonas Bjorkman 5-7, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 to reach the third round of the US Open was much more like the real thing.
Still in the very early stages of his comeback, Murray is not the finished article, but with every set he plays, he looks more like the man who barged his way into the world's top 10 earlier this year. His forehand is getting stronger – and sometimes he cracks some thumping winners on that wing – and his return of serve is as impressive as ever. All he needs now is to get a few more matches under his belt and the frustrations of the past few months will be no more than a distant memory.
"I'm really pleased," Murray said in his own understated way. "It just shows that all the hard work I put in when I was injured was worthwhile. I hit more balls out there than I have in a long time and I feel fine. I didn't feel my wrist at all."
Bjorkman, the wily 35-year-old Swede who has tormented the good and the great for the past 16 years, was always going to be a tough test for Scotland's finest. He likes nothing more than to take a match deep into the fifth set and wait for his opponent to implode. With a return of serve that, in its day, was one of the best in the business, he can unpick any attack and turn it back on the server. This, then, was going to take more than a few forehands to overcome.
Three months off may have dulled Murray's match fitness a little, it may have taken the punch from some of his shots, but it has made no difference to his understanding of the game. If Murray cannot beat a man with sheer brute force, he will beat him with guile and, as Bjorkman ran and lunged to keep his nose in front for the first set and early in the second, the Scot started to outwit his rival.
His ability to vary his tactics, to lure his opponents into errors, is what has propelled Murray up the rankings. For every big serve cracked back by Bjorkman, Murray would throw in a slower delivery to dupe him into a baseline rally. From there it was often just a case of waiting for the error to come.
Even so, Bjorkman proved a stubborn foe. Only when he was a set and a break up did he give the Scot a hint of a chance, throwing in a double-fault to drop his serve. Murray did not need any more encouragement than that as he won 11 of the next 12 games to wrap up the second set and take a 5-0 lead in the third. In the space of a few points, the momentum of the match had changed completely and Murray was on his way.
But just when everything was going according to plan, Murray's first serve began to disintegrate in the fourth set and he could land only 42 per cent of his first attempts. The rest of his game was still in reasonable fettle but he simply could not hold serve. And the more he struggled, the grumpier he got.
By this stage, the clock was ticking towards the three-hour mark and, in the baking New York sun, everyone was beginning to fray at the edges. Murray was getting tired – he had not played five sets since January at the Australian Open – and he needed a kick-start to get himself going again. As he has learnt from experience, getting a little angry can make all the difference and a quick surge of adrenaline can work wonders when the legs are beginning to ache.
He had already received a warning for an audible obscenity in the second set, a spot of industrial language yelled in frustration as he missed a string of break points. That, though, was just a moment of irritation. His polite, if firm, conversations with Pascal Maria, the chair umpire, about the quality of the line calling, seemed to be a way of clearing his mind in the fourth set and preparing for the battles ahead.
By the fifth set, Murray was back in full control while Bjorkman was beginning to wilt. So Murray is back in the third round, where he will meet Lee Hyung Taik, the surprise 7-5, 7-5, 6-3 winner over Guillermo Canas. Somehow, it seemed like he had never been away.
The home favourite Andy Roddick advanced to the third round yesterday when his Argentine opponent Jose Acasuso retired with a left knee injury at the end of the third set.
Although Acasuso had taken the first set, the former champion Roddick looked in command at two sets to one, leading 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, when the Argentine decided to call it a day.Reuse content