Andy Murray and Ash Barty pay tribute to each other
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Andy Murray faces a tough test in his opening round match at the ATP 250 in Metz, as he looks to secure some much-needed wins. The former world No 1 produced a stunning display at the US Open to push third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in a fiery first-round clash but failed to replicate that form in the Rennes Challenger last week and will be hoping to produce a better performance in Metz.
Murray will want to add to his ranking points tally after being hampered by multiple niggles and issues keeping him out of tournaments this year. He was unable to compete at the Australian Open after a positive Covid test meant he was unable to find a ‘workable quarantine’ for the tournament.
The 46-time title winner also missed the ATP 500 event in Dubai following the birth of his fourth child, then withdrew from the Miami Open with a groin injury, and later decided to skip the clay-court season to extend his preparation for the British grass events in the summer – bar one doubles entry into the Italian Open.
The decision seemed to pay off, but tough draws cost him the chance to go deep in the top tournaments. The current world No 113 returned on the grass courts of Queens Club, but lost to top seed and eventual champion Matteo Berrettini.
The three-time Grand Slam champion finally started to look like his old self at Wimbledon as he battled past 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in four sets, and qualifier Oscar Otte in five – shouting at himself, getting the crowd on side, roaring and soaking up the atmosphere when winning a long exchange – but ultimately fell to 10th seed and eventual semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov.
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While there were very positive signs from his exploits at the All England Club, Murray was unable to replicate his performance at the ATP Tour events, which are a shorter best-of-three format.
The top young players have proven to be Murray’s downfall, as he overcame fellow tour veteran Richard Gasquet 6-4 6-4 in the Cincinnati Masters but fell to ninth seed Hubert Hurkacz in the following round, and similarly dispatched lucky loser Noah Rubin 6-2 6-0 at the ATP 250 in Winston-Salem a week later before losing to 23-year-old Frances Tiafoe.
His chances at the US Open looked slim when he drew third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round, but he gave the 23-year-old a tough test and stayed with him until the very end, going 2-1 sets up before a controversial bathroom break ahead of the fifth set boosted the Greek and helped him close the match out.
It was once again a display of the old Murray, the man who battled through back-to-back-to-back tournaments at the end of 2016, going on a 24-match winning streak to secure the year end No 1 ranking and showing his never-say-die attitude.
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That attitude still hasn’t seemed to entirely translate in his best-of-three results though, with the Brit suffering a similar drop-off in results at the Rennes Open last week, a Challenger event where he was the fifth seed, beating world No 240 Yannick Maden 6-3 6-1 before losing to world No 158 Roman Safuillin in three sets, much like his experiences in Cincinnati and Winston-Salem.
Murray will need to find a way to get over this hump and make up some much-needed points at this week’s ATP 250 in Metz, where he has drawn 8th seed and home favourite Ugo Humbert in the first round, with the pair expected to face off on Tuesday (September 21).
The European indoor swing offers a perfect chance for the former world No 1 to gain extra points and shoot up the rankings, hopefully back into the top 100, and be able to gain direct entry into Grand Slams.
While he has still drawn a tricky first-round opponent, he will be able to capitalise on the fact that the likes of Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and other strong young guys like Zverev and Tsitsipas aren’t playing, and take the opportunity to try and make the latter stages knowing he won’t run into a top five player.
He has already proven he can perform on the indoor hard courts since his hip resurfacing surgery, winning the ATP 250 in Antwerp back in 2019, beating fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the final.
While Murray’s lower ranking means he will continue to face tough draws, he has still been able to beat the likes of Alexander Zverev and Matteo Berrettini in the past couple of years, so should be able to push through and secure wins against those who are ranked much higher than him.
Getting extra wins under his belt and having deeper runs in as many tournaments as possible, even those at 250 level, will also help him get to a place in the rankings where he could even benefit from a seeding and not need to face the top players so early on.
If anyone can do it, it’s certainly Andy Murray, and with the likes of Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal all sidelined with their respective industries, seeing Murray climb back up the rankings will be a comforting sight for many who miss the Big Four era of tennis.
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