Andy Murray digs deep to bounce back to winning ways in Rotterdam




Andy Murray - AP
Andy Murray - AP  

Andy Murray scored his first tour-level victory for six months when he overcame Robin Haase - an old foe whom he used to face on the junior circuit - in the first round of the Rotterdam indoors.

It was a struggle, as it always seems to be these days. Remarkably, Murray hasn't scored a straight-sets win at an ATP tournament since October 2019, when he beat Pablo Cuevas in the second round of Antwerp.

This time, Murray had to go the long way around again after dropping the first set. His lack of regular tennis means that is still feeling his way into matches. If his opponents are aggressive early on, they can bully him.

But Murray has not lost to Haase for 13 years - not since they met as fresh-faced 20-year-olds at this same indoor event in Rotterdam. In the meantime, they have faced each other five times, and despite Haase's obvious talent as a shotmaker, Murray has gone into "Thou shalt not pass" mode whenever things have got tight.

Grinding Haase down may be easier because of the obvious disparity in their physiques, with Murray's tree-trunk thighs contrasting with his opponent's pipe-cleaners. "Maybe I did even more workouts," said Haase, rather optimistically, after they met at the 2011 US Open, "but you don't see it."

This time, Murray had to stage two fightbacks. After that slow opening, he equalised by taking the second set via a gritty tie-break. And then, after losing his serve early in the decider, he started working Haase ruthlessly around the court. The next six games came in a rush to round off a satisfying 2-6, 7-6, 6-3 win.

"From the mental side, I did really well to win," said Murray afterwards. "I was really struggling with my game for probably about an hour and a half of that match. I haven't felt like that many times in my career. I was mistiming the ball. It was very strange. I didn't quite know what to do out there. I didn't return well.

"[But] I found a way and started to play better at the end. The physical side was positive. I moved pretty well and played for two-and-a-half hours, and my hip and groin felt good. That was positive. From the tennis side, it was average at best."

As said by Murray, the most encouraging part of the evening was his movement, which would have given a casual observer no hint that he is carrying a bionic metal ball-and-socket joint around in his right hip.

Still, the victory took him a fraction under two-and-a-half hours of intense effort, so he will be glad that he can rest up tomorrow before facing fourth seed Andrey Rublev or Marcus Giron on Wednesday.

This was not Murray's first win of the year at any level, as he reached the final of the Biella Challenger three weeks ago. But for a player of his pedigree, second-tier tournaments are mere stepping stones in a long and drawn-out campaign to recover former glories.

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