Andy Murray’s long-awaited Grand Slam comeback ended in a sensational five-set victory against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka at the US Open on Tuesday.
Murray, who was playing his first Grand Slam tournament since the 2019 Australian Open, relied on his remarkable powers of recovery to battle back from the brink of defeat to edge out world No 49 Nishioka 4-6 4-6 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 after four hours and 38 minutes.
“I’m tired. My big toes on both sides are pretty beat up,” said Murray, who looked as though he had never been away as he put himself, his coach, and his opponent through the wringer.
“But I did all right. At the start I was apprehensive about playing a long match and I was pacing myself, like you do in juniors. But once I was two sets down I had to put the afterburners on.
“I had to start striking the ball better. I was a bit tentative. Then I went the other way of taking chances and making errors. But towards the end I started to get the balance right.
“They have an ice bath in the locker room only for emergencies, but for me this is an emergency! That’s by far the most tennis I’ve played since 2019 so I need to recover well.”
After 596 days, a metal hip, a brief but enjoyable doubles sojourn and a global pandemic later, Murray was back playing singles at a major – a triumph in itself.
On Arthur Ashe Stadium where some of his best moments have occurred, memorably winning the 2012 title, the Scot, who had a metal plate inserted into his hip in January 2019, had backed his body to be able to come through a best-of-five-sets singles match just days earlier.
He had showed positive signs in defeating world No 7 Alexander Zverev in an impressive return to the tour at last week’s Western & Southern Open.
However, left-hander Nishioka’s awkward style meant he was going to be a difficult opponent for Murray and he showed it for two sets by sucking Murray into lengthy baseline rallies.
The 24-year-old secured the first break of the match in the seventh game and served out the opening set comfortably.
Two Murray double faults set the tone for a chastening second set for the former world No 1, who quickly found himself a double break and 4-0 down.
A break back offered a glimmer of hope but when Nishioka, on set point, offered up an inviting second serve, Murray must have thought his luck was out when he broke a string to send a return long.
At two sets and a break down Murray finally raised himself. All the chuntering to himself and complaining to coach Jamie Delgado, sat alone in the stands, resurfaced as he made it to a tie-break.
Murray produced an astonishing fightback to outlast Yoshihito Nishioka
The old warrior was back, as was the zip in the Murray forehand, as he halved the deficit, before saving a match point on the way to levelling the match with a second tie-breaker.
An exquisite Murray lob cancelled out another break and when Nishioka floated a forehand long, Murray, the fierce competitor eventually re-emerged, finishing off the Japanese baseliner for another one of his Houdini acts.
“Physically I actually did pretty well,” Murray said during his press-conference. “My toes and stuff were hurting. Actually I did pretty well for being such a long match.