Broadway is usually the place you go to find drama here, but the place to enjoy a show full of twists and turns was Louis Armstrong Stadium on the first day of the US Open. Andy Murray’s victory over Robin Haase played out like a medical soap opera as the Scot struggled with cramp and at times looked barely capable of moving before securing the 6-3, 7-6, 1-6, 7-5 win that took him into a second-round meeting with Germany’s Matthias Bachinger.
Murray appeared to be coasting when he took the first two sets before starting to cramp in the third. When he lost eight games in a row and was twice a break down in the fourth set it seemed that he might be heading for his first opening-round defeat at a Grand Slam tournament for more than six years but he dug deep to complete his victory after three hours and eight minutes.
There were times when Murray looked barely capable of moving. The 27-year-old Scot is not the best at hiding his physical difficulties on court and it was often hard to work out what his problems were. His discomfort was clear as he clutched at his thighs, back, shoulders and sides, stretched his muscles and rubbed ice into his legs at the changeovers.
Murray said his problems were all down to cramp, which must be a major concern. He is usually one of the strongest players in the game and worked especially hard on his fitness at his training camp in the heat and humidity of Miami a few weeks ago.
“My quads were cramping and I started to get it in my forearms,” Murray said. “These Slams are physically challenging, but I need to work out why that happened because it shouldn’t happen after an hour and 45 minutes, even though it was hot.”
With Agnieszka Radwanska beating Sharon Fichman in just 47 minutes in the opening match, Murray found himself on court shortly after noon on the opening day of the year’s final grand-slam event. It was a day of glorious sunshine, with the temperature climbing to 31C by mid-afternoon.
There was plenty of support for Murray in the crowd, including a group of four young Australians with A, N, D and Y written on their shirts. If their witty ditties sounded familiar it was because they are the same group who have led the cheerleading at the Scot’s matches at the Australian Open in recent years.
The early stages gave no indication of what was to come. Haase, who lost the first six points on his own serve, was soon 4-0 down, with Murray looking in complete control. The Scot played a sloppy game as Haase broke for 4-1. Five double faults in the first set were an indication of Murray’s subsequent difficulties, but he still took it in just 34 minutes. After an early exchange of breaks the second set went to a tie-break.
Murray wasted a first set point with a loose backhand when he served at 6-4, but three points later a missed forehand by Haase gave the world No 9 the set.
It was in a lengthy third game of the third set that Murray’s problems started to become apparent.
From 1-1 the Scot lost eight games in succession. At times he barely moved for his shots.
As the cramps spread from his legs to other parts he kept pulling up short and attempting to stretch his muscles.
Murray never called for the trainer and indeed it was Haase who sought treatment for a foot problem when he led 4-1 in the fourth set.
Murray broke back to 4-3, dropped his own serve immediately, but broke again when Haase served for the set.
When Haase served at 5-5 Murray made his final break of serve with a huge forehand return winner. Even then the drama was not over as the Scot went 15-40 down in the next game before converting his first match point when Haase put a forehand in the net.
“Parts of that match weren’t particularly pretty but I managed to get through,” Murray said. “I was in a good position when I was two sets to love up. I didn’t know whether to go for it in the third set or to try to conserve energy for the start of the fourth set. It was tough out there, but it was also tough for Robin.”
Bachinger, Murray’s next opponent, enjoyed what he called the best win of his life when he beat Radek Stepanek 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. The 27-year-old German, who had never previously won a match in the main draw of a grand-slam tournament, is the world No 235 and had to go through three rounds of qualifying to play here.
Nick Kyrgios, who beat Rafael Nadal en route to the quarter-finals of Wimbledon, showed he is no one-Slam wonder when he beat the world No 23, Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny, who has twice reached the semi-finals here. Kyrgios won 7-5, 7-6, 2-6, 7-6.
Venus Williams, 34, champion in 1999 and 2009, also came from a set down to beat 43-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.