The crowds here at the US Open like players who show emotion. They are not too fussed about style or elegance, but love scrappers who fight to the end and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
No wonder they like Andy Murray. The 24-year-old Scot’s five-set victory over Robin Haase in the second round here on Friday night provided wonderful entertainment for the fans in Louis Armstrong Stadium. Haase, a big if erratic hitter, took the first two sets against a curiously leaden-footed Murray, who then fired himself up to win 13 games in succession before the 24-year-old Dutchman came off the ropes to force a dramatic finale.
Murray led 4-0 in the decider, lost four games in a row and then made the crucial final break of serve, after which he served out to secure a 6-7, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-4 victory after three hours and 23 minutes. It was the sixth time in his career that he has come back to win a match from two sets down.
If it was a thriller for the crowd, however, Murray was under no illusions as he looked ahead to his third-round match today against Feliciano Lopez. 'I’m going to need to play better or I'll be going home,' Murray said. 'You can't come through four or five matches like that. I'm going to need to play better, for sure. Physically I’m good. I feel fine. I have no pain or aches or anything, so that's a huge positive.'
He added: 'To come back from two sets is a difficult thing to do. Any player will tell you that. And I just feel because of the way I was playing, that's what was more impressive, because I wasn't playing that well. I'm sure in the next match I'll play better, I'll strike the ball more consistently and I'll move better. That's just what I've got to focus on: take one match at a time, because if I play like that then I'm not going to win the tournament.'
Lopez, nevertheless, is unlikely to prevent Murray reaching the last 16, in which he would meet either the American Donald Young or Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Chela. Murray has played Lopez five times, most recently at Wimbledon in this year’s quarter-finals, and has lost only one set against him. The 29-year-old Spanish left-hander’s big serve and sound volleys make him a threat on fast surfaces like those at Flushing Meadows, but Murray has one of the best returns in the game and loves to have a target at the net.
'There are guys on the tour that are, I think, less dangerous than him, but it’s a good match-up for me,' Murray said. 'So if I play good tennis and play solid then it’s a match that I feel like I’m good enough to win. But if he has a great serving day then he’s a very, very difficult guy to break.
'Having played against him at Wimbledon and having a good record against him, you’re going to feel more comfortable going on the court against someone whose game you know. I don’t think he’s unpredictable. You know what to expect from him, so you just have to have the right game plan and execute. I’d played Haase once but I’ve seen him play matches where he’s made hundreds of errors and I’ve seen him play matches where he’s unbelievable for a few sets, so it’s quite difficult to get the tactics spot on.'
Murray was at a loss to explain his early sluggishness against Haase — 'You have days like that sometimes,' he said — and believes the spectators can help him avoid a repeat.
'The crowd here really want to get involved in matches, so if you can get them into it earlier it does help,' he said. 'Normally I play quite a lot of long rallies and long points and it will be different: a counter-puncher against someone playing offensive. Against Feli there will be a lot of passing shots, lobs and running passes. Hopefully it will get the crowd into it.'
Murray, who with two and a half months of the regular season remaining has already qualified for the end-of-year World Tour Finals in London, paid tribute to his entourage for their support. He acknowledged that he had put them through torture against Haase: Judy Murray, his mother, said on Twitter that she needed a stiff drink and a lie-down afterwards.
'I don’t see all the grimaces and all those sorts of things,' Murray said. 'I only see the support and the positivity which was very good from everyone. That helped me in turning the match around. When the guys are there with you in those situations it helps. We’ve been through all the hard work together.'
Haase expects Murray to beat Lopez comfortably. He also believes the Scot has it in him to win Grand Slam titles. 'He’s not No 4 in the world because he has the best serve in the world, the best forehand in the world or the best backhand,' Haase said. 'It’s because he’s an unbelievable tennis player.
'He plays like a chess player. He plays the game really smart. He’s really fit and athletic. He doesn’t maybe have the best serve, but he has a good serve. He doesn’t have the best backhand, but he has a really decent backhand. He’s good at everything. He can do everything from every angle. Of course he’s dealing with the pressure. I think that’s what makes him a great player.'
MURRAY’S POSSIBLE ROUTE TO THE TITLE
Third round: Feliciano Lopez (Spain, aged 29, world No 26)
Fourth round: Juan Ignacio Chela (Argentina, aged 32, world No 24)
Quarter-finals: Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina, aged 22, world No 18)
Semi-finals: Rafael Nadal (Spain, aged 25, world No 2)
Final: Novak Djokovic (Serbia, aged 24, world No 1)
MURRAY’S WINNING COMEBACKS FROM TWO SETS DOWN
Davis Cup 2006 (v Israel at Eastbourne) beat Andy Ram 2-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-3
Wimbledon 2008 4th round beat Richard Gasquet 5-7, 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4
US Open 2008 3rd round beat Jurgen Melzer 6-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-1, 6-3
French Open 2010 1st round beat Richard Gasquet 4-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1
French Open 2011 4th round beat Viktor Troicki 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5
US Open 2011 2nd round beat Robin Haase 6-7, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-4