Andy Murray fought through a number of cramps to notch a four-set victory over Robin Haase, kicking off his 2014 U.S. Open in most unusual fashion on Monday. Despite that impressive rally from early adversity, Murray's road to a potential title in the season's Grand Slam finale is too tough for him to advance deep in the tournament.
Now bear in mind that Murray is the biggest men's tennis star not named Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer. A lackluster 2014 season has him seeded eighth—even without Nadal in the U.S. Open field.
With Djokovic lacking form ahead of Flushing Meadows and Federer not quite the force he was in his prime, Murray still hasn't been able to return to the level he was at in winning last year's Wimbledon.
Part of that can be attributed to Murray's back surgery and the time it took him to adjust to the heat of competition once he was fit enough to even return to the court.
There was no denying how ugly the advancement past Haase was, though, as Lindsay Gibbs of Sports on Earth hinted at in her analysis:
Although he's managed to advance to the semifinals of the French Open and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, Murray has not done enough to even win a singles title this year. Following the tense match with Haase, there is more reason to doubt Murray moving forward.
BBC Sport's Piers Newbery recorded what Murray had to say about the grueling physical test he faced, where he willed his way to a 6-3, 7-6, 1-6, 7-5 victory:
I was in a good position, and then my body failed me. I panicked, because you don't know what to do. I got broken at the beginning of that third set, and you think: "What do I do? Do I try to conserve energy or do I try to finish it in three sets?" I don't really know how I managed to get through.
At least Murray seems to be feeling better as of Tuesday, per The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg:
Yeah, I feel fine. I felt fine yesterday evening after the match. I started to feel good about an hour after the match; I started to feel better. And, yeah, I woke up this morning and I wasn’t really sore, or stiff, or anything. So, yeah, I’ll just try to work out what it was in the next couple of days, look at everything I drank, everything I eat, and make sure I do everything I can to recover.
Whether the cramps Murray dealt with valiantly are an aberration or a grander concern is unknown, but it doesn't help Murray's U.S. Open stock. Plus, he said before the tournament that he was in ideal shape; then the cramps happened.
Since he couldn't really use his legs to generate his typical, excellent defense and court movement, it took significant strategic adjustment and willpower just for Murray to get through the first round.
Kheredine Idessane of BBC Scotland pointed to a potential silver lining about the timing of his next fixture in New York:
But faster hard-court surface is less forgiving to those who don't move well. If he can't get from baseline to baseline as he's accustomed to, there's no way Murray will be alive in the draw much longer.
With Murray being the eighth seed, the quality of opponents inevitably strengthens. The road is tougher to go deep.
The second round shouldn't offer a considerable test, because Matthias Bachinger bailed Murray out to a degree with a straight-sets win over Radek Stepanek. Murray lost to Stepanek at the Aegon Championships just before Wimbledon.
However, that Bachinger was able to upset a quality opponent to start the tournament and has little to lose makes him a dangerous adversary. Bachinger was sensational in his service games against Stepanek, which could be an invaluable asset if Murray isn't totally fit:
|Matthias Bachinger's Serve Stats vs. Radek Stepanek at US Open|
|First serves in play||65% (44/68)|
|1st-serve points won||82% (36/44)|
|2nd-serve points won||67% (16/24)|
Fernando Verdasco is a savvy veteran who's had two appearances in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. The Spaniard looms as Murray's likeliest third-round opponent. Should Murray get by Verdasco, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga projects to be there in the round of 16.
Murray lost to Tsonga in Toronto and has failed to beat a top-10 player since his breakthrough at Wimbledon in 2013, per The Telegraph's Simon Briggs. Tsonga is No. 10 in the ATP rankings at the moment, so based on that reasoning there's little chance Murray will reach the quarterfinals.
And even if he does, SI Tennis notes the man who is bound to be waiting for Murray:
A run to the Elite Eight at this point would be a small victory for Murray and would fulfill the expectations his seeding dictates. As a past U.S. Open champion capable of far better play, Murray will always be held to a higher standard, especially with a number of prolific contemporaries in Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.
At the moment, the deck is stacked against Murray to live up to his ubiquitous hype. If and when his U.S. Open ends in disappointing fashion, at least there is little room for Murray to go but up. With a fully healthy body, time to fully acclimate to new coach Amelie Mauresmo and a chip likely on his shoulder, Murray should bounce back big in 2015.
Note: Statistics and draw information is courtesy of USOpen.org.