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Alix Ramsay’s Report On Cincys / New York Tennis ATP | WTA

Andy Murray celebrates after defeating Frances Tiafoe.

By Alix Ramsay

Mask on, hand sanitiser at the ready: we are prepared for the brave new world of tennis and the start of the Western and Southern Open. Here we go: to the future and beyond.

And then, just six hours in, absolutely nothing had changed. Oh, sure, there were masks on the sprinkling of ball persons (not kids but grown-ups because we don’t want to expose young persons – to use a gender unspecific term – to any danger), there were new rules in place but, actually, not a lot was different.

Don’t forget your mask, signage around the tournament.

Day One of the relocated Masters 1000 event was Brit heavy. For us Brits, that was a good thing. But when it got to around teatime in New York, there was a familiar sinking feeling in the British camp: four of our number had gone into battle and just one had come back with a win. That one would be Andy Murray, he of the tin hip and absolutely no expectations as he made his way back into the professional world after hip surgery and a Covid lay off. Nope, nothing had changed.

Muzz got the better of Frances Tiafoe 7-6, 3-6, 6-1 in around two and half hours. Some of it wasn’t pretty; some of it was a bit of a worry but, in the end, Muzz overcame his weariness and flattened the world No.81 in the third set. But it was a long time coming. Now he faces Sascha Zverev for a place in the third round. When you are the world No.129, life doesn’t get any easier even if you win.

Murray of Great Britain fist bumps Frances Tiafoe after defeating him.

Tiafoe is one of those players who has had the dreaded bug but now, thankfully, is fully recovered. That said, who knew how an interrupted summer of training and the aftereffects of Covid-19 would leave him. As it turned out, it left him still woefully shy of tactical nous and, as the second set wore on, considerably light on fuel. Still, he is young and he now has eight days to work on the practice courts; he has time to come back from this loss before the US Open starts a week on Monday.

Tiafoe now has eight days to work on the practice courts before the US Open.

“I’m happy with how I did today. Would have liked to have played a bit better, but physically I was good. That is the most important thing for me, because that hasn’t been the case for the last ten months.”

Muzz was not at his best by any account but, that said, he still got through the rough bits, played well in other bits and outlasted his junior (Tiafoe is 11 years younger than the bloke with the metal hip). After the best part of three years trying to come back from a completely knackered right hip, he was pleased with his efforts.

“Physically, I thought I did pretty well,” he said. “I moved maybe better than I expected to. The first few matches back when I started playing singles last year, I moved way worse than I did today, so that was positive.

Andy Murray hits a return to Frances Tiafoe.

“My tennis could have been better. I thought I could have played a bit better. I guess that will come, the more matches I play. But I always need to see as well how I recover from a match like that too, because, you know, although I felt good during the match, things can sometimes stiffen up and hurt a bit afterward.

Now, though, there is another huge step up: now there is Zverev, the world No.7, the man he last faced four years ago at the Australian Open. Back then, Muzz was just starting out on the season that would take him to No.1 in the rankings while Zverev was just a spindly 19-year-old. And Muzz walloped the German. A lot has changed since then.

“He’s obviously been up at the top of the game for a number of years now,” Muzz said. “So, yeah, it will be a good test for me, for sure. You know, he’s played well in the Masters Series, maybe in the slams not played as well I know for the last few years. But Masters Series, he definitely played well.

“He moves well for a big guy, solid off the ground. Has struggled at times with his serve. When he’s serving well, he’s obviously one of the top players in the world.”

Back with the rest of the Brits, Cam Norrie got thumped by Reilly Opelka, 6-3, 6-4. He is not short, is Cam, standing 6ft 2ins but he was still conceding nine inches to the big, serving machine from Mississippi by way of Florida. But while the loss may sting now, it can be erased from the memory banks quickly enough. Would that that were true of Britain’s other two representatives.

Heather Watson almost lost quickly, almost staged a great comeback and then was undone by a woman who simply refused to go away: Hev lost 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to Bernarda Pera having led by a break twice in the third set.

That, though was nothing compared to Kyle Edmund – he managed to blow a 5-2 lead in the first set to lose 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 to Kevin Anderson. He did well enough to come back from losing his early lead in the first set (he lost his initial break with a dismal combination of double faults and three fluffed forehands) but the longer that first set went on, the better Anderson served. It was never going to end well.

Kyle Edmund and Kevin Anderson tap rackets after their match.

But we did learn a few things from this match. The first was that while there is automated line calling, there is still an alarming cry of “Fault!!!!” from a disembodied voice. Whose voice it is, we know not but they are still loud and over-excited when their moment comes. And it can take you by surprise. And, no, there are no Hawk-Eye challenges. If the computer says no – or yells “Fault!!!!” – it means it. No arguments.

Then there is the shot clock. When this was introduced last year, the clock would tick down the seconds as a player prepared to serve. But in those pre-Covid days, said players had flunkies – or ball persons – to sprint towards them proffering towels for a swift wipe down. Nowadays, the player has to go and find his own towel – and that takes time.

Anderson got a telling off for taking too long between points but, as he pointed out to the umpire, he was sweating buckets and needed to dry off. If he finished the point at the net and his towel was in the far corner of the court, it took up valuable seconds to go and get it.

Edmund, meanwhile, had other towel issues. Never the most effusive of characters, he has taken years to learn how to celebrate the winning of an important point. So, there he was, fending off a break point in the first set and doing it with a trademark forehand. A belter, too. He turned on his heel, pumped his fist shyly and pointed to his towel with purpose.

That was when he was told by the ballperson that he was on his own. No one but the player touches the towel. Do it yourself, mate. Kyle had to work on a new celebration routine. And when another break point was saved, he dutifully trudged to his towel as he would when his mum used to tell him to tidy his room and looked glum. Then Anderson broke him and that was the end of that.

Wear a mask and keep your distance.

So, at the end of Day One, we are back where we started: Andy was the only Briton to survive and no one looked likely to match him. Some things never change.