It has been five years since Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray battled against each other in their fateful French Open semi-final in 2017, then two of the top three players in the world. They played for five bruising sets over four-and-a-half hours and although Wawrinka advanced, nobody really won. Murray left the match with serious hip injury, then two days later Wawrinka departed with a career-altering knee injury. After numerous surgeries and one metal hip, neither has fully recovered their levels.
On Monday afternoon, they began their 22nd meeting in far more understated circumstances, a first-round match in the secluded suburbs of Cincinnati. In the arduous, jittery match that followed, as both men battled their bodies as well as each other, Murray overcame a bout of cramping and a break in the third set as he drew upon his typical grit to emerge as the victor, 7-6(3), 5-7, 7-5.
“When you’re cramping, you need to try to relax because you don’t want to be playing long points,” Murray said. “Whenever I had the chance, I tried to play aggressive, get him defending a little bit. Because on this court, with the speed of the court, how lively it is, I was having to do lots of running when I wasn’t doing too much with the ball so going for my shots worked for me.”
It marked an essential win after what has been a difficult period for Murray. His grass-court season had started with an extremely promising run to the final of Stuttgart. After the abdominal injury he suffered in the tight final with Matteo Berrettini then the second round loss at Wimbledon to a red-lining John Isner, he immediately travelled to the United States in search of wins and points to build his ranking.
They did not follow. Murray reached one quarter-final in Newport, then he lost his opening match of his following two events, suffering from cramp in a miserable experience against the world No 115 Mikael Ymer. Last week in Montreal, he meekly lost 6-1, 6-3 to No 13 Taylor Fritz, looking slow and listless throughout.
Early on here, Murray served well and he successfully tested Wawrinka’s shot tolerance with his defence but his positive contributions were mixed with tentative forehands and too many unforced errors. Against an opponent who has won only three matches in his nine events since returning from foot surgery, Murray was far more solid when it counted in the opening set tiebreak.
But from the second set, he struggled as Wawrinka found a cleaner stretch of ball striking, spraying loose errors as he was unable to move Wawrinka around the court despite the Swiss’s diminished movement. After conceding his serve and the second set, Murray began to cramp in his left leg and he attempted an underarm serve. As he surrendered his service game he fell behind 2-0.
Even as he despaired, Murray fought, as he always does, his physical issues prompting him to attack freely, continually forcing Wawrinka on the back foot. The physio continually entered the court, but Murray recovered the break deficit and broke again at 5-5 in the third set before serving out to win.
The reward is a second-round match that will push him even further to his limits. British No 1 Cameron Norrie emerged as victor in his own tight first-round battle, edging out the talented 19-year-old Holger Rune 7-6(5), 4-6. 6-4. The two British players will face each other in the second round on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, on Sunday afternoonhere, a fan was ejected from the all-Russian match between Anastasia Potapova and Anna Kalinskaya after sitting in the stands with a Ukrainian flag wrapped around her. The fan had sat in the stands silently, but her presence prompted a complaint from one of the players, with tournament security eventually escorting her from the court.
The highly anticipated first-round match between Serena Williams and Emma Raducanu here was abruptly postponed from Monday to Tuesday night, frustrating fans who had spent considerable money and travelled to the event to watch the match.