Lack of fans tougher for Andy than fitness level

Andy Murray returning to American Frances Tiafoe in New York on Saturday as men’s tennis awoke after a five-month hiatus. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

NEW YORK • It has been a long nine months for Andy Murray. Last October, he won his first ATP title - over two years after his last - at Antwerp despite undergoing hip resurfacing surgery, leading to several months out and persistent retirement rumours.

However, the momentum was derailed by a combination of more complications caused by the operation and then Covid-19.

The Scot was out of action for the first three months of the season, including the year's first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, and just when he was ready to return to the Tour, the coronavirus pandemic broke out, leading to a five-month stoppage of the men's circuit.

With barely any play under his belt - the Western & Southern Open will be his only warm-up before the US Open, which starts next Monday - the 33-year-old is not going into the hard-court Major with any expectations other than to get a feel of top-level tennis again.

"I know that the tennis will come but it's not gonna come back immediately, so it's just not to expect straight off the bat to be playing perfect," the three-time Grand Slam winner said after beating American and fellow wild card Francis Tiafoe 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-1 in the first round on Saturday in New York.

"For example, in the first set today, the tiebreak was a bad level. It was not good tennis, in my opinion.

"But I got through it and I didn't get too down on myself and I didn't expect to play unbelievable today.

"I spoke with my coach the last couple of days and he was saying to me, 'You're good enough to win matches even when you're not feeling good'."

On the lengthy layoff, Murray revealed he had "done more (gym work) in these last four months than I probably have in my career".

His second-round opponent, seventh-ranked Alexander Zverev of Germany, will be a sterner test of his fitness - the pair faced each other only once in 2016 - but the former world No. 1 is more perturbed by the absence of fans.

Like the US Open, the Western & Southern Open is being held in the same Covid-19 "bubble" designed to minimise the risk of contracting the virus, meaning no spectators are present at either event.

On experiencing a closed-door tournament for the first time, Murray said: "There isn't really an atmosphere, to be honest with you...

"In difficult moments, the crowd being there maybe helps you focus a little more and sometimes, gives you that little extra boost in terms of your energy or your concentration. That's not there and it's certainly different in that respect."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2020, with the headline Lack of fans tougher for Andy than fitness level. Subscribe