In the city that never sleeps, the man who never gives up reminded New Yorkers last night why he was once their champion.
Andy Murray threatened to cause what would have been a huge shock at the US Open before being controversially defeated by No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who finished 2-6 7-6 3-6 6-3 6-4 in four hours. won and 48 minutes.
With every beautifully timed foundation and cleverly altered angle, every rant against himself and his box, this was a time warp Murray as he transported himself back to where he was at his peak five years ago. Encounters like this, ridiculously high quality for a first round, are why he keeps playing.
His enduring athleticism was such that it could easily be missed that he is running around with a large metal cap in his hip, which is why his world ranking has dropped to a humiliating 112.
The deciding set followed an eight-minute delay in which Tsitsipas left the field, enraging his opponent and leading to a time violation. Then when Murray lost his serve, he turned to his support group and the word was called cheating.
“You know as well as I do that this is an absolute disgrace,” he complained to court officials.
It is dangerous to excite the Scotsman, and Tsitsipas gains an unwanted reputation in the game for his sharp drills. Despite all that, he came out swinging with his majestic backhand to secure an early break in the decider.
Murray kept coming back to him in a way that, once the dust settles, should be hugely encouraging. The roar at Arthur Ashe Stadium was not enough to help him open the door freely and the Greek kept his nerves in check and almost managed to cross the line.
A major factor was the accelerated jobs at Flushing Meadows this year, forcing Murray to play with aggressive intent and take up his opponent’s time. That way he always looks his best.
Another sign that it was vintage Murray was that he lay on a strange sideshow and saw him vent at his support box.
The reason on this occasion was that he struggled with his shoes in the steaming heat, which soaked both his shoes and socks and affected his grip on the pitch.
Despite the circumstances, only one pair of sneakers appeared to be in his bag. After the second set, there was the bizarre sight of him pushing the air conditioning tube on the pitch into his shoes to dry them.
“You never look at the details, never,” he yelled from his corner. Finally new socks were delivered.
The fact that this was the first meeting between Tsitsipas and Murray spoke of what has happened over the past four years. While the Greek has been a fixture in the top ten, the former champion has missed so much tennis that there are several stars of the more recent vintage of whom he has little or no experience.
Murray couldn’t have played better since the start of his injury, and his intention was clearly in a brilliant first set.
When he made it 6-2 with two service breaks, it was his first top five since the French Open semi-final against Stan Wawrinka that year.
The 34-year-old Scotsman found great rhythm in his serve and played aggressively the whole time, judging beautifully when to get in the net.
Perhaps most striking was the way Murray was able to cover the corners of the field. As Tsitsipas drove into the far reaches, he noticed the ball coming back, often with interest.
From the start of the second set, he forced Murray to work harder to hold on. Wisely, he cut back on the first set’s drop shot tactics, meant to test his opponent’s move.
When the first tiebreaker came, he continued to drive forward to mislead his opponent, then led 4-3 with a perfect one-inch backhand lob that is his signature.
At 6-4, two set points were created, the best chance of which was the first, which he blew into the net with a backhand.
Struggling to keep his feet up because his socks were so wet, he made a double foul at 7-7, giving Tsitsipas the chance he needed to level up.
Then came another story about the unexpected. Murray started to lose a little spring in his stride, but got a rattling start early in the third, securing an early break and again getting more pop on his serve.
Despite his tennis shortfall – just seven previous tournaments this year – there was energy in his legs and it took him to a third set that was arguably better than the first.
The momentum turned again. Tsitsipas had demanded treatment to his ankle after a slip towards the end of set three, but then came out roaring in the fourth to sack winners and trigger the showdown.