From the profound issue of Covid vaccination to the relative trivia of fake toilet breaks, Andy Murray’s status as the sage of tennis is growing by the week.
He can also play a bit, as he showed in a pulsating first round of the US Open against the world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas that he could have won so easily.
The 34-year-old Scot’s rankings may have fallen, but he has consolidated his position as the world’s number 1 when it comes to opinions on important matters in the game and beyond.
Andy Murray was left outraged by the time Stefanos Tsitsipas came off the field
The world’s No. 3 (left) had the upper hand to beat Murray, but his ‘cheating’ put Murray to the test
Before taking down Tsitsipas post-game and his dubious practices in the early hours of this morning, Murray had spoken out boldly this weekend about the need for player vaccination.
It earned him rave reviews on Monday from no less than World Health Organization director Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus, who stated via Twitter that “Murray agrees.”
Now, in admittedly minor matters, the double Wimbledon champion can provoke long-needed action against players abusing toilet break and medical time-out rules.
Unable to contain his anger at Tsitsipas, he let him cool off between the fourth and fifth sets, walking off the field for more than seven minutes, ostensibly to relieve himself. He also questioned the legitimacy of medical care his opponent was getting. He pointed out that it was so predictable that even before the match he discussed its inevitability with his support team.
The Scot complained to an official with Tsitsipas away from a long stint before the fifth set
Murray had spoken out about vaccines before and his words add significantly to the tour
Tsitsipas defended himself by saying that he acted within the rules as they are (vaguely) drafted, and there is some validity in that.
These practices have been going on for years, but tennis, with its weak and broken leadership, has done nothing to address them. This should be the catalyst for a concerted approach to stop these ridiculous mid-game gaps in a sport whose rules clearly state a basic tenet: ‘Play should be continuous’.
Murray’s criticism of his opponent was all the more effective as he also recognized what an asset the extremely gifted Tsitsipas can be to the sport.
‘I appreciate him a lot. I think he’s a brilliant player, he’s great for the game,” said the Scot. “But I don’t have time for that at all, and I lost respect for him.
“It’s not so much leaving the court. It’s the amount of time. I spoke to my team about it before the game and said to expect that, to prepare if things didn’t go as planned.
“The problem is, you can’t stop the way that touches you physically. When you play such a brutal game and stop for seven or eight minutes, you cool down.
“It’s not good for the sport, it’s not good for the TV, it’s not good for the fans. I don’t think it’s good for the players either. I’m sitting here, and instead of talking about how fantastic he is, how great it was for me to be able to put on a performance like that after everything that’s happened over the past four years, I’m sitting here talking about game delays . That’s bullshit.
Tsitsipas defended himself, but Murray’s critique could have included an analysis of the break rules
He was adamant that his comments were not “sour grapes” and that changes are needed
“It’s annoying to me because it sounds like sour grapes because you lost a match and all that. I would have said the same if I had won, I promise. It was nonsense, and he knows it.’
As players of recent generations have noted, such as Briton Jo Durie, they went on to have careers – let alone entire matches – and barely leave the field for whatever reason. Now it happens all the time.
One solution would be for players to be given a strictly limited number of breaks per year during the game for medical or medical reasons. In addition, for each additional instance, they would make a mandatory donation to charities.
Giving points or game advantages to the delayed player is an idea that has been discussed more. We would soon discover how many of the current interruptions are real.
But as Murray pointed out miserably, the situation will likely still drift. There are so many problems in tennis, like growling, because of the disjointed governance of the sport in the men’s and women’s tours and the Grand Slams.
What he can be much more optimistic about is his playing future, as few could have foreseen that he could push a top standings to 6-4 in the fifth set in a match of outstanding quality.
If he had taken one of his two set points in the second, he could have won on straights. His movement was excellent. What a shame we won’t see how his body would have recovered from a match that lasted nearly five hours.
Tsitsipas was taken away by Murray and he will now hope for easier tests in New York
Murray may no longer be the world’s No. 1 on the pitch, but he still showed he can play in a fine display