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Murray back with a bang in New York

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Using Grandstand as its centre court, along with nine other outside courts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the Western & Southern Open kicked off in New York on Saturday with no spectators in the stands and line judges replaced by electronic line-calling.

Former world number one Andy Murray enjoyed a winning return to tennis with a triumph over Frances Tiafoe to reach the second round of the Western & Southern Open, as the men’s tennis tour resumed in New York following a five-month coronavirus-enforced hiatus. Picture: Frank Franklin II, AP

NEW YORK – Former world number one Andy Murray enjoyed a winning return to tennis with a 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-1 triumph over Frances Tiafoe to reach the second round of the Western & Southern Open, as the men’s tennis tour resumed in New York following a five-month coronavirus-enforced hiatus.

Venus Williams, another former world number one, did not fare as well as the American suffered a 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 defeat to 16th seed Dayana Yastremska, who fought through the pain after twisting her ankle to reach the second round.

The last ATP match played prior to the tour suspension was the Santiago final on March 1.

Using Grandstand as its centre court, along with nine other outside courts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the Western & Southern Open – typically hosted in Cincinnati – kicked off in New York on Saturday with no spectators in the stands and line judges replaced by electronic line-calling.

Murray, who hadn’t competed since the Davis Cup last November and who missed the start of the 2020 season dealing with a pelvic injury, will next face world number seven Alexander Zverev.

In his first career meeting with US player Tiafoe, Murray, a two-time Cincinnati champion, had to save a set point in the first-set tiebreak and battled through two hours and 28 minutes of play to overcome the American world number 81 and book a second-round showdown with fifth seed Zverev.

Tiafoe, who recently recovered from Covid-19, hit a whopping 46 unforced errors during the match.

The pair touched wrists at the net instead of the typical handshake and tapped the umpire’s shoe with their racquet as Murray celebrated the win with a fist pump towards his team in the empty stands.

“There isn’t really an atmosphere, so that’s obviously a little bit tricky. I know it’s a bit of a cliché that you need to create your own atmosphere on the court but it’s not quite the same,” said Murray.

Having been dealing with physical issues all year, Murray said he wasn’t too concerned about how much match play he’ll be getting in New York, but the three-time Grand Slam champion is keen to test himself against the tour’s best.

“My goal was to come in and my hip be feeling good. That was what I wanted. I don’t mind how much tennis I get to play, I know that will come with time and the more I practice and the more matches that I get,” said the 33-year-old Briton.

“Today I was competing again at the highest level, managed to win a match, and get the opportunity to play a top player in a couple of days’ time. That’s what I wanted.

“The more time I get on court with top players, the quicker my level will get back to where I want it to be.”

Later on Grandstand, the 40-year-old Williams, ranked 65 in the world, recovered from a 2-4 deficit in the opening set to take the lead but dropped the next two to the big-hitting Ukrainian in two hours and 36 minutes.

Venus Williams lost in the first round to 16th seed Dayana Yastremska. Picture: Toby Melville, Reuters

Yastremska was broken while serving for the match at 5-4 in the decider but recovered immediately, staving off three break points at 6-5 to advance.

“I started to have a lot of pain and my mind just was focusing on the pain in the first set,” said the 20-year-old Ukrainian, who next faces American lefty Bernarda Pera. “I took the medical timeout and in the second set, when I lost the first game, I really wanted to fight through because I felt very bad. But something inside told me, ‘you have to fight, during the pain, during everything’. I really wanted to finish that match, I really wanted to win it.”

Home favourite and world number 50 Coco Gauff was handed a 6-1, 6-3 drubbing by number 13 seed Maria Sakkari, who looked in complete control of the match and later gave rave reviews to the bubble set-up put together by organizers to keep the players safe.

American tennis prodigy Coco Gauff was eliminated in the first round, losing to 13th seed Maria Sakkari. Picture: Andy Brownbill, AP

All players competing this week, as well as in next week’s US Open, are living in a bio bubble, following strict safety protocols on-site and at the official tournament hotel.

“It sounds weird, but I love it. It’s so nice,” said Sakkari of her life in the bubble so far. “It’s like a school trip, it’s so nice.”

Russian world number 27 Ekaterina Alexandrova delivered the first upset of the day, thanks to a 7-5, 7-6 (8-6) win over ninth seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has reached four finals in 2020 and leads the WTA in matches won and aces hit this season.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka earned her first win of 2020 with a 6-2, 6-3 upset of 15th seed Donna Vekic.

Canadian duo Felix Auger-Aliassime, the men’s 15th seed, and Milos Raonic both secured passage to the second round with straight-set victories over Nikoloz Basilashvili and Sam Querrey respectively.

dpa