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Alix Ramsay Gives An Overview Of Tennis From New York • Serena, Andy Murray And More

Andy Murray of Britain in action against Milos Raonic.

By Alix Ramsay

You wouldn’t want to be working for the Tennis Integrity Unit, not at the moment. There you are happily trawling through mountains of results and data, your eagle eyes alert to any dodgy result or suspicious betting pattern, when the Western and Southern Open gets underway in New York. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Somehow we have got as far the quarter-finals, although how we have enough players left to fill the slots is anyone’s guess. The mass exodus of seeds in the first couple of rounds was not so much a surprise as mind boggling.

Dodgy results? Where do we start? Let’s see: Dominic Thiem kicked into touch by Filip Krajinovic in 61 minutes in his opening match. A couple of days ago, the Australian Open finalist won just three, measly games. How so? Was the No.2 seed ill? No. Was he injured? No. Then how did he lose so miserably? Because in his first official match since February, he was absolutely rubbish, utter pants. Not that Thiem put it quite that way (and if he had, it would have been more along the lines of: “so a Dreck” and – or should that be und? – “grottenschlecht”), but that is what he meant. He was awful, Krajinovic was much, much better (and is now in the quarters) and Thiem had a lot of work to do to be ready for the start of the US Open on Monday.

“It was just a horrible game by myself,” Thiem fessed up. “Didn’t play well at all. I will think about it, and hopefully I’ll find better answers in the next days.”

Not that he was alone. Popular wisdom has it that there is safety in numbers but, alas, that is not the case in this situation. By the time we had counted 16 seeds across both draws trudging back to their socially distanced and bio-bubbled hotel rooms by the end of the second round, we gave up. There were just too many bruised egos and unforced errors to contemplate.

What they all have to work out is how to fix their problems in no time flat. After six months of relative inactivity, they all have to fling themselves towards a grand slam with next to no warm-up. The relocated Cincy event was supposed to provide a little preparation but in order to build up some momentum, a chap or chapess has to win a few rounds. And that simply has not been happening for the good and the great.

Andy Murray did manage to get a few rounds in before he was thumped by Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-2 on Tuesday night. He was, in his mind, “grottenschlecht” and clearly furious with himself for not giving himself a chance against the big Canadian. After all, he had won their last eight encounters.

In a little under an hour and a half, not including the torrential rain that sent them scurrying for cover mid-match, Murray was bombarded with thundering serves (Raonic’s average first serve speed was in the 130s mph) and never managed to find a way to counter them, even when Raonic couldn’t land the first delivery.

Milos Raonic’s average first serve was in the 130 mph range against Murray.

“He served I think like 45 percent first serves in the first set,” Murray said, “and usually, when I played against him if he was serving that percentage I’d be putting a lot of pressure on him on the second serve and I wasn’t doing that tonight. That’s something I’ll need to have a look at in practice the next few days.

“It was poor. Yeah, didn’t play well. Yeah. Was not a good day.”

The upside was that he had played three matches in four days and still felt fine. The hip was not a problem, his movement was good and he had beaten two good players to get to the third round. But Murray does not come to these events to admire the scenery and make up the numbers; he comes to compete.

“My opinion is that you should set yourself the best-in-the-world standards for everything that you do,” he said, “because then it means that you’re going to prepare properly for tournaments, you’re going to train hard, you’re going to take care of all of the details, because that’s what the best in the world do, whatever job it is. That’s why they are the best.

Milos Raonic taps the racquet of Andy Murray of Britain after defeating him during a Western and Southern Open third round match.

“I’m not happy with how I played tonight. I can’t sit here and say otherwise. I could have done things a lot better. Yeah, disappointed in myself because I got through a couple of tough matches and was hoping to play better tonight, but it wasn’t the case.”

Serena Williams knows just how that feels. She thought she had her match against Maria Sakkari in the bag but over three frustrating sets and two hours and 17 minutes of toil, she lost 7-5, 6-7, 6-1 – and that despite saving seven match points.

Serena Williams reacts while playing against Maria Sakkari of Greece during a Western and Southern Open third round match at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows.

After failing to serve out the match at 5-3 in the second set, Serena unravelled in spectacular fashion. Yes, she saved those match points but, no, she never looked like she had any clue how to win in that final set.

But what worries her most is that this is not a new problem. This has nothing to do with the enforced Covid layoff; this problem is more deep-rooted, one that was plaguing her long before the world went into lockdown, and she is running out time to find a solution.

“It was tough, but, I mean, I literally should have won that match,” she said. “There was no excuse. So, I mean, yeah, it was hard, but I had so many opportunities to win, and I have to figure that one out, like how to start winning those matches again. There is really no excuses, to be honest.

“I’ve just got to start learning how to win big points. It was literally one point since January. One point I could have won so many more matches, literally. So if I could just focus on how to win that one point, that would be better.

“It was tough, but, I mean, I literally should have won that match” – Serena Williams

“I put myself in a bad situation. You know, it’s like dating a guy that you know sucks. That’s literally what I keep doing out here. It’s like I have got to get rid of this guy. It just makes no sense. It’s frustrating.”

Meanwhile, back at the Tennis Integrity Unit, the boffins are tearing their hair out. What constitutes a suspicious betting pattern in today’s tennis? Anyone staking their mortgage on a relative unknown with a big forehand and not a vowel in their surname is hardly acting suspiciously – with the current form of the world’s top players, you might as well shut your eyes and stick a pin in the draw sheet to find a winner.

That said, my farthing (it’s all I could find in the10sballs.competty cash box, that and a button, three bent pins and a fluffy toffee) is on one N. Djokovic to lift his fourth US Open trophy in a little over two weeks’ time. Then again, you just never know…