Newspaper article International New York Times

Murray Passes Tough First-Round Test at Open

Newspaper article International New York Times

Murray Passes Tough First-Round Test at Open

Article excerpt

Andy Murray rallied from two sets behind to win against the unheralded Radek Stepanek on Tuesday after a five-set, two-day match.

As Andy Murray and Radek Stepanek met at the net to shake hands after a harrowing five-set win by Murray, a weary Stepanek reached out to hug his opponent, a rare gesture for a first-round match.

For the 37-year-old Stepanek, even in defeat this was a powerful moment. His match with Murray had stretched over two days and included encroaching darkness, chilly conditions, a couple of contentious moments and plenty of compelling tennis, mostly from Stepanek.

It was almost as exhausting for fans to watch as it was to play, and Stepanek looked as if he needed the embrace to commemorate the moment and confirm that he and Murray, the No. 2 player in the world, had just engaged in such an unexpectedly grueling encounter.

Murray put one arm around Stepanek, but stood upright and kept a safe distance from his opponent, a trick that was not so easy to do during the match.

"Incredible match," said Stepanek, the oldest player in the draw. "Tough battle. I can be proud of what a game I played pushing Andy into the corner after what he's done on clay this year."

For Murray, a strong contender to win the title because of his recent form on clay, the outcome was not so much a moment of celebration as relief. The specter of losing to the 128th-ranked Stepanek, who was forced to win three qualifying matches just to gain admittance to the main draw, was a real possibility when Stepanek won the first two sets Monday.

Play resumed Tuesday with Murray leading by 4-2 in the fourth set. The fifth-set shootout, as Murray called it, was tense throughout, but Murray finally broke serve in the 11th game to win, 3-6, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5. "It was obviously an extremely difficult match, very tricky and challenging," Murray said. "Today was pretty stressful."

Surprisingly, Murray said the victory was even more important to him than had been assumed, perhaps an indication of his high expectations here. …

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