Andy Murray's Round 1 U.S. Open victory over Robin Haase was painful.
Quite literally, in fact.
The always-demonstrative Murray wasn't just exaggerating a few muscle tweaks or pangs of pain as he struggled to a 6-3, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 7-5 over Haase in New York. No, he was legitimately cramping throughout the match and had to fight though his physical ailments to advance to the second round.
Honestly, it might have been just the sort of win Murray needed.
This was Murray showing resilience, fighting for every point, not in his own head because he had to deal with his body failing him.
This was Murray grinding.
He hurt when he served.
He fought dehydration.
At times, you wondered if he was going to last.
But Murray fought on.
Sure, maybe it all was a touch dramatic. Dan Wolken of USA Today certainly thought so:
Nobody makes sure you know he’s hurt more than Andy Murray.— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) August 25, 2014
A win is a win, though, and Murray needed this one. Maybe the win will give him confidence, maybe it won't. Nevertheless, he easily could have given in and he didn't.
And make no mistake about it, Murray was hurting out there and struggling with cramps all over his body, as he told reporters (h/t ESPN.com) after the match:
"When it starts to kind of go everywhere, you don't know exactly where it's going to creep up next," he said. "When you stretch one muscle, something else then cramps, too."
It started in the back of his left shoulder, then quickly spread to his forearm. The right-handed Murray couldn't toss the ball high enough to get any pace on his serves.
Between points, he'd twist his body to awkwardly stretch his left side. After hitting a winner, he'd reach for his quad.
"I don't think if it would have gone to five sets I would've been the favorite," he admitted. Luckily for him, he finished things up before then.
But where does Murray stand now? We can forgive a lackluster performance when a player's body is betraying him, but what has been betraying Murray all season long? What has been the cause of a season without a single title?
Maybe it's simply a natural recovery from back surgery or that he's now working with a new coach. Or maybe, just maybe, after ending the British drought at Wimbledon a year ago, Murray is simply a little bit bored with the whole tennis thing after reaching the pinnacle of achievement.
Greg Garber of ESPN.com has more on that theory:
"I'm not so sure it's the back," said [Murray's former coach Ivan] Lendl, shaking his head last week in New Haven. "Winning Wimbledon, how do you top that?"
Lendl, the force behind Murray's breakthrough, told the player in March over dinner in Miami that he could no longer give him the coaching time he needed. It was a combination of things, Lendl said—wanting, among other things, to spend more time with his 16-year-old daughter and 79-year-old mother—but there was also the factor of trying to match a moment that can never truly be matched.
"That's going to be difficult, honestly," Lendl said.
Murray needed to fight like this, to scrap and struggle and perhaps awaken the fire inside that has appeared at times to have at least dimmed—if not been extinguished.
Fanning those flames early in the U.S. Open can only be a positive for Murray.
But he must do more than fight now. He must get back to playing good tennis. He must get back to being composed on the court, spontaneous and unpredictable but also in control. He must start making the right decisions again and hitting the right shots consistently.
Murray battled on his first day at the U.S. Open, and the resilience he showed was an excellent sign. However, now it's time for him to play the tennis we expect of him.
More importantly, it's time for him to play the tennis he should expect of himself.