Setbacks from a hip injury had dropped Andy Murray so far down in the rankings that he fell off tennis’ unofficial Mount Rushmore. The Big Four of Murray, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic became the Big Three while Murray — whose 2012 U.S. Open title was the first of his three Grand Slam event wins — recovered from surgery.
It was tedious, and his struggles were so vexing that he burst into tears after he won a marathon match to reach the quarterfinals at the recent Washington Open. Now ranked 382nd in the world, Murray held his emotions in check after rallying for a 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 448 James Duckworth of Australia in the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday. He was analytical, satisfied at improving his returns after the first set and dictating play as the match wore on.
“I was pumped to be back playing in a Slam again,” he said. “I’m happy I got through.”
Before the tournament began he said he didn’t consider himself a contender. That hasn’t changed.
“I’m still taking it one match at a time,” he said. “This is the first time I have played four sets in 14 months so I just have to wait and see how I pull up [Tuesday]. Hopefully I feel good and take it from there.”
Stan Wawrinka is in the same situation. Also a three-time Slam winner, the 2016 U.S. Open champion is recovering from knee surgery and is No. 101 in the world. Given a wild-card berth, he capitalized by upsetting No. 8-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. It wasn’t shocking, since he had sent Dimitrov home in the first round at Wimbledon, but it was reassuring.
“A few weeks ago I was still struggling a lot,” Wawrinka said. “So I’m improving day by day.”
A development plan built around regional training centers remains the best strategy to identify and groom young American players, executives of the U.S. Tennis Assn. said. They also acknowledged that the long-term success of Venus and Serena Williams has inspired more girls to play tennis than boys, an imbalance they hope to correct.
“Tennis is such an attractive sport for girls and young women because it is very lucrative and it’s right there at the top,” said Martin Blackman, general manager of USTA player development. “We’ve got to make sure that kids and families coming into the game have a better value proposition, enjoy their tournament experiences, and we want to get them into the game at 7, 8 years old, before they choose another sport. … We’ve got to get those better athletes into the game on the boys’ side at a younger age.”
No. 3-seeded Sloane Stephens managed her nerves and the distractions of noise and fan movement while earning a 6-1, 7-5 victory over Evgeniya Rodina of Russia at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
“Just happy to be through today with a lot of things going on, on the court,” she said.
American women scored another success when 18-year-old Claire Liu of Thousand Oaks, the 2017 junior Wimbledon champion, defeated Polona Hercog of Slovenia 7-6(4), 1-6, 6-4.
“Winning a round in the U.S. Open is pretty big,” said Liu, who trains in Carson. Also, Long Beach Poly High graduate Vania King defeated Natalia Vikhlyantseva of Russia, 7-6(4), 6-3.
Others didn’t fare as well: Pasadena native Danielle Lao, 16-year-old wild-card entrant Whitney Osuigwe, Caroline Dolehide, and Floridians Sachia Vickery and Jennifer Brady lost, while Sofia Kenin defeated fellow American Madison Brengle.
Taylor Fritz of Rancho Palos Verdes regrouped and relied on his fitness to outlast Germany’s Mischa Zverev 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-2 in a sweaty 3 hours 48 minutes. It was Fritz’s first five-set win in five tries.
“I feel good,” he said. “I think I’m ready to make a big run.”
Sam Querrey, a 2017 U.S. Open quarterfinalist, retired in the fourth set against Andreas Seppi of Italy. But No. 18-seeded Jack Sock ended an eight-match singles losing streak with a 6-0, 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory over Guido Andreozzi of Argentina. Sock had sought refuge in doubles and won the Wimbledon title with Mike Bryan.
“It’s been a tough road for a little bit here,” Sock said. “Doubles has kept me in some tournaments, gave me confidence and motivation just to be on court in general.”