Andy Murray’s first singles outing since January’s hip-resurfacing operation left him nursing few negative after-effects, judging by a strong doubles showing on Tuesday night that kept his Cincinnati campaign alive.
After losing 6-4, 6-4 to experienced Frenchman Richard Gasquet on Monday, Murray had admitted that his legs felt heavy in the closing stages. He decided not to apply for a singles wild card for the US Open, which starts in just under a fortnight’s time and is played over the longer format of best-of-five sets.
On Tuesday, though, the apparent effortlessness of Murray’s turnaround was encouraging. Shunted out to the bijou Court 4 – one of the further-flung parts of Lindner Family Tennis Centre – he nevertheless enjoyed vocal support as he and his charismatic partner Feliciano Lopez fought back from a set down to defeat Horia Tecau and Jean-Julien Rojer by a 3-6, 6-3, 10-3 scoreline.
A 37-year-old Spaniard, Lopez is a tall left-hander with a weak backhand which he more than compensates for with world-class serves, forehands and volleys. He can be unpredictable – on Tuesday he blared a couple of regulation volleys so far long that they flew into the backboard – but he also brings an explosiveness that can blow any opponents away.
It is no mean feat to beat Rojer and Tecau, who are the fourth-best pair in the world this year. Murray shared an especially warm handshake afterwards with Rojer, the Dutchman who lives near to his second home in Miami, and was the only tennis player from outside the UK to attend his wedding in 2015.
On Monday night, Murray’s competitive showing against Gasquet was highly creditable – especially when you consider that it was the highest-profile match every played by a man with a metal hip. Even so, he was right to suggest afterwards that “There are lots of things I can work on.” Unsurprisingly, his movement lacked its old power and instinctiveness, and Gasquet cashed in with a series of cute drop shots.
While Murray improves his conditioning, doubles will keep his competitive juices flowing. He may only be ranked at No. 96 in this secondary format, but he is performing at an elite level, with seven wins from 11 matches since his comeback began at Queen’s Club eight weeks ago.
Tuesday night’s victory strengthens the argument for a Murray-Lopez combination at the US Open in around a fortnight’s time. These two play with real chemistry and have now won six of their seven matches together.
The story began at Queen’s, delivering a fairytale flourish when they lifted the title at their first attempt. Murray then tried out a series of different partners in his next three events – Marcelo Melo in Eastbourne, Pierre-Hugues Herbert at Wimbledon and brother Jamie in Washington – before returning to Lopez last week at the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
Despite all these changes, Murray is on a run of three straight second-round exits, which should strengthen his resolve in his next outing against the American duo of Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock. The singles career of Sock – a former world No. 8 – might have ground to a halt but he is a remarkable doubles player who has twice lifted the Wimbledon crown while also winning last year’s US Open alongside temporary partner Mike Bryan.
Also in Cincinnati, British No. 1 Kyle Edmund lost to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev - the world No. 8 - for the second straight tournament. Though at least the scoreline - 6-2, 7-5 - was closer than it had been in Montreal last week, where Edmund won only three games.
Game, set and match! Murray/Lopez defeat Tecau/Rojer 3-6, 6-3, 10-3
Lopez punches away a volley, and that is that! Murray/Lopez are through to the second round after 76 minutes.
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez 9-3 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
A brilliant Lopez forehand draws a netted volley from Tecau. Murray/Lopez have six match points!
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez 8-3 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
A Lopez ace out wide takes him and Murray to within two points of victory.
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez* 7-3 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
A Murray smash keeps the scoreboard ticking in the right direction from a British-Spanish point of view...
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez* 6-3 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
A Lopez missed return reduces the deficit for Tecau/Rojer.
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez 6-2 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
Tecau double faults for the second time in the tie-break! Murray/Lopez are getting closer...
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez 5-2 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
A missed Rojer return means Murray/Lopez are halfway to the magic 10 number.
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez* 4-2 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
Superb angled Lopez volley extends his and Murray's lead. Lopez is starting to do Lopez things...
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez* 3-2 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
Brilliant defensive work from Lopez eventually draws a missed lob from Rojer. Murray/Lopez are a mini-break up again.
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez 2-2 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
A Rojer service winner has us back level.
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez 2-1 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
Rojer nets a forehand to give Murray/Lopez the lead back.
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez* 1-1 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
Murray nets a smash, and we're back level.
Match tie-break: Murray/Lopez* 1-0 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
A Tecau double fault gives Murray/Lopez the instant mini-break.
Murray/Lopez 3-6, 6-3 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server) - Second set Murray/Lopez, and we'll have a Match Tie-Break
Lopez briefly looks in trouble down 0-15, but he then switches into beast mode, and bangs down some big serves and a couple of nailed volleys to secure the hold and with it the set. No third set in men's doubles remember, we'll have a first-to-10 points Match Tie-Break instead.
Updated sequence of games incidentally:
Tecau/Rojer x 3
Murray/Lopez x 3
Tecau/Rojer x 3
Murray/Lopez x 3
Murray/Lopez* 3-6, 5-3 Tecau/Rojer (*next server) - Murray/Lopez break
And Rojer certainly seems to be feeling the pressure here. After Lopez obliterates a return for a clean winner, Tecau double faults to leave he and Rojer facing three break points at 15-40. They save the first but a Tecau netted volley on the second secures the break for Murray/Lopez.
Lopez will serve for the second set.
Murray/Lopez 3-6, 4-3 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
Having struggled initially, Murray has served much better this set. He holds to 15 - having been 40-0 up - and puts the pressure back onto Tecau and Rojer.
Murray/Lopez* 3-6, 3-3 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
Tecau appears to be back in the groove on his serve, sending down a few bombs en route to another love hold. The sequence of the last nine games has been:
Tecau/Rojer x 3
Murray/Lopez x 3
Tecau/Rojer x 3
What happens next?
Murray/Lopez 3-6, 3-2 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server) - Tecau/Rojer break back
I may have jinxed Lopez there. He butchers a volley down 0-30, and all of a sudden he and Murray are facing four break points at 0-40. Lopez saves the first, but Tecau punches away a volley on the second, and we're back on serve.
Murray/Lopez* 3-6, 3-1 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
Rojer stops the bleeding with a love hold. You feel the key game of the set could be the next time Murray serves. Thus far, Lopez has been very comfortable serving.
Murray/Lopez 3-6, 3-0 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
Much better serving from Murray seals a breezy love hold. Having lost three games in a row, Murray/Lopez have won the last three.
Murray/Lopez* 3-6, 2-0 Tecau/Rojer (*next server) - Murray/Lopez break
Having served so well in the first set, a double fault has Tecau down 0-30. A brilliant Murray forehand winner return then opens up three break points at 15-40. Can they take these ones? Yes, they can! The first in fact, as Rojer nets a volley.
Murray/Lopez 3-6, 1-0 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server) - Murray/Lopez save a break point and hold
A mishit but extremely effective Tecau return leaves Murray stranded at the net, and has us at deuce. Sudden-death point coming up, with Rojer selected to return. A break here would be huge, but Lopez holds firm with a forehand volley that draws a Rojer forehand into the net.
Scarily good serving numbers from Tecau/Rojer in the first set...
Murray/Lopez* 3-6 Tecau/Rojer (*next server) - First set Tecau/Rojer
Tecau finally drops a point on serve, but by the time he does he's already 40-0 up. No matter, a booming ace out wide seals the set on the next point.
Murray/Lopez have it all to do.
Murray/Lopez 3-5 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server) - Tecau/Rojer break
And just like that, it's Tecau/Rojer who have the break. Murray's serve has looked vulnerable today, and Tecau/Rojer sense weakness. They go after their returns and, helped by some erratic Lopez volleying, break to love.
Tecau, who's yet to drop a point on serve so far, will serve for the first set.
Murray/Lopez* 3-4 Tecau/Rojer (*next server) - Tecau/Rojer save three break points and hold
Well, well. Having failed to win a single point in their first few returning games, Murray/Lopez quickly have a couple as they draw two missed volleys to move up 15-30. A brilliant point then ensues, and ends with a punched Murray backhand winner to bring up three break points (there is a sudden-death deuce point) at 15-40. Rojer saves the first couple, so it's onto the sudden-death deuce point. Murray/Lopez elect Murray to receive, but he can't quite work his magic - under-hitting a lob that Tecau can gleefully smash away.
Murray/Lopez 3-3 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
A Lopez double fault to start the game puts he and Murray under a little bit of pressure, but some solid volleying by both men secures a hold to 30. A brilliant second serve on the final point has Murray clapping his racket in appreciation. "Great serve," he mumbles.
Murray/Lopez* 2-3 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
More strong Tecau serving, coupled with a couple of erratic Murray returns, secure another love hold for the Romanian/Dutch pair. They have won all 12 of their service points so far.
Murray/Lopez 2-2 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
It's no love hold for Murray - in fact he looks under threat at 15-30 - but some heavy serving, and a sumptuous half-volley pick-up secure the hold to 30. Big cheers from the crowd.
Murray/Lopez* 1-2 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
Rojer gets on the love train with a hold to 0 of his own. No-one has dropped a point yet on serve. Over to you Andy...
Also I swear Mohamed Lahyani is getting louder, even drowning out Sheryl Crow's 'All I wanna do is have some fun', which is blaring out from somewhere.
Murray/Lopez 1-1 Tecau/Rojer* (*next server)
Lopez will serve first for the Murray/Lopez team, and he answers Tecau's love hold with one of his own. The Lopez serve really is a thing of beauty.
This is the scene out in the boondocks of Lindner Family Tennis Center:
Centre Court it ain't.
Murray/Lopez* 0-1 Tecau/Rojer (*next server)
Tecau's big serve sets Rojer up for some easy volleys in what is a comfortable love hold to get us under way.
Big cheers for Murray as he is announced to the crowd. Tecau/Rojer, the No 4 seeds, won the toss and elected to serve.
They will get us under way, with Tecau serving first...
Still knocking up
You can hear Mohamed Lahyani very clearly from a neighbouring court...
They're on court
Strange to see Murray playing on such a small court, but here we are. The players are about to begin their knock-up, and then we will be under way...
Game, set and match Vekic
She's beaten Siniakova 6-4, 6-3. So next on Court 4 will be Murray/Lopez vs Tecau/Rojer.
Another day, another Andy Murray match. Less than 24 hours after his singles defeat to Richard Gasquet, Murray is back on the court for this doubles date with Feliciano Lopez.
Their opponents are the Romanian/Dutch duo of Horia Tecau and Jean-Julien Rojer, who boast Wimbledon and US Open titles among their many successes as a pair. Murray and Lopez have considerably less experience playing together, but in their very first tournament - at Queen's in June - they swept all before them to claim the title. They then reformed at the Rogers Cup last week where they were beaten in the second round by French Open runners-up Fabrice Martin and Jeremy Chardy.
And so to today, which takes on greater importance after Murray revealed yesterday that he would not be playing US Open singles. Instead he will focus on the men's and mixed doubles events, both of which he has enjoyed some success in already this summer.
The question is who his partners will be, with Lopez surely his first choice for the men's event. There has been no official confirmation as yet, but the fact the US Open men's doubles is best of three will surely make it more likely that Lopez is willing to enter.
A good run here in Cincinnati might help to convince Lopez that it is worth him taking the plunge at Flushing Meadows.
As for Murray, hopefully his body will have responded well to his first singles match in seven months yesterday. We should find out soon, because in the preceding match on Court 4, Donna Vekic leads Katerina Siniakova 6-4, 4-1.
So unless Siniakova can mount a comeback, we'll be getting under way shortly.