Greetings from Cincinnati!
In this morning’s scene setter, two awaited returns to competition (one after only one week!), then table setting for a packed Order Of Play.
Andy Murray made his return to singles play yesterday afternoon against Richard Gasquet. I was in the press room a few cubicles down from BBC Radio’s Russell Fuller, who seemed to be carrying the flag for British media here. Fuller spent much of his day on the radio mike supplying British listeners with context for the match, then an “it wasn’t too bad, considering” summary of the match, not unlike a British holidaymaker describing a week in Clacton.
Murray started his match with a double fault, and finished it with a flurry of anguished self criticism, making it seem like he’d hardly been away. In the intervening hour and a half Murray and Gasquet moved the ball around in what felt like a throwback to mid 2000s clay court tennis, both players well behind the baseline and hitting with lots of net clearance. Gasquet was able to exploit Murray’s court position with angled forehands and several dropshots: the lack of ringcraft meant that Murray often stood flat footed watching the ball gently land inside one of the singles boxes.
Murray gave Gasquet credit for his tactics in post match press:
You know, Richard, he uses all of the angles on the court. He’s one of the best at doing that. So I was having to move a lot laterally and I didn’t move forward particularly well. Like when he drop-shotted, there was a few times I didn’t even run to the ball, didn’t react to it, and that’s nothing to do with my hip. That’s just me not running for a ball, which I did do that better at the end of the match.
Gasquet was quite matter of fact when asked whether he could offer Murray advice about returning after surgery (Gasquet himself had groin surgery earlier this year):
You know, I have nothing to say to him. He’s a much better player than me. He won Grand Slam. I only did semifinal. He has many things to tell to me. Him, I have really nothing to say to him.
He’s a better player than me, so I just hope he, step after step, day after day, tournament after tournament, he will climb, you know, the matches, the practice, and he will come back as strong as before.
Gasquet’s counsel echoes something many veterans speak about – the need to see the top levels of tennis is being accessible only by putting in the hard yards, earned over long months and years rather than being a prize easily grasped through talent or natural athleticism.
Which brings us naturally to a younger contender, Nick Kyrgios, who played his first round match on the Grandstand court against Lorenzo Sonego from Italy.
I got to the Grandstand – Cincinnati’s court 2 – 45 minutes before the match was due to smart, which was a rare example of smart forward planning on my part. The stadium was packed when the players took the court, with a pretty solidly pro Kyrgios crowd.
I’d seen Sonego play Federer at Roland Garros in the first round of Roland Garros a couple of months ago, and my match call on Twitter helped me place his game – big first serve and forehand, attackable second serve, good competitor.
Kyrgios played the match in buttoned down mode, which would be wild and crazy for the median Top 100 ATP player: in the first set he began chuntering over a poor line call, began to monologue, and launched a ball out of the stadium. But he gave Sonego no looks at all on his serve, and produced a couple of highlight reel point in set 2, winning one with a stick low backhand volley off a drive forehand return, then losing the second after a crazy rally at 15-30, 3-5.
Sonego, who’d played a near expressionless straight man to Kyrgios, reacted volubly, appealing for some love – and he got some from his opponent, who stopped play before the next serve pointing out that they were replaying the point on the big screen. So both players and the crowd watched it again, with Ali Nili in the chair (who’d umpired superbly) graciously stuffing the shot clock under the seat cushions.
A few minutes later Kyrgios served out the match, gaining a R32 tie with Karen Khachanov, Montreal’s semi finalist for his pains.
If you have tickets for Center Court today both the day and evening sessions are mouthwatering. The day session starts with yet another early round Wawrinka-Dimitrov face off, followed by Venus Williams against last year’s WTA champion Kiki Bertens, then last year’s ATP champion Novak Djokovic against Sam Querrey. The evening session has 38-year-old Roger Federer against Juan Ignacio Londero, after which 38 year old Serena Williams starts her campaign against qualifier Zarina Diyas from Kazakhstan.
On other courts, keep an eye out for Keys vs Muguruza and Kvitova vs Sakkari on Grandstand: court 4 also looks promising, with late afternoon/early evening ties featuring ATP young guns Hubert Hurkacz and Alex De Minaur.
Enjoy today’s tennis!