The return of live Grand Slam tennis has brought a much needed sign of familiarity in these unprecedented times to tennis fans around the world. Despite no fans at Flushing Meadows, the quality of tennis produced has been high and the opening round of matches have had their fair share of suspense and drama. Day four looks set to continue this trend, with a clash of a current multiple Grand Slam champion Andy Murray taking on Felix Auger-Alliasime, who many tip to be a future Grand Slam champion and star of the future.
Rolling back the years
Anyone who watched the first two sets of Andy Murray’s opening round match against Yoshihito Nishioka could be forgiven for wondering whether the Scot could still be competitive in the best-of-five set format. His return let him down in the first set and he quickly went down a double break in the second, with Nishioka beginning to dominate the long rallies. It was looking like an unceremonious first round defeat for Murray in front on a near empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.
However, what followed was in some ways miraculous considering the Scots physical condition. Despite having no crowd energy to feed off, Murray fired himself up and produced a comeback that will surely rank as one of his most satisfying singles win. Having to save a match point and despite not being able to move as freely as he had been able to in the past, the Scot’s mental strength was like the Murray of old and proved to his peers watching in the stadium that he still has a lot to give on the tennis court.
Youth vs Experience
After his grueling first round victory, the draw does not get any easier for Murray. He faces a tough test in young Canadia Felix Auger-Alliasime. The young Canadian has already made headlines on the tour, becoming the youngest player since Novak Djokovic to reach the semi finals of a Masters 1000 event in Miami last year. He has also reached five ATP tour finals, the first of which was at the 2019 Rio Open. He also achieved his best result at a grand slam, reaching the third round at Wimbledon.
Auger-Alliasime has more firepower than Nishioka, and is strong off both the forehand and the backhand sides. However, one area he has struggled with has been the serve, more specifically the ball-toss. However, when he is serving at his best, it can prove to be a powerful weapon. Auger-Alliasime certainly has the game to beat Murray, but a big part of the game is also mental toughness and belief.
This will be the first time that they meet, and it promises to be an interesting match for a number of reasons. The first and obvious question on everyone’s minds is how will Murray hold up physically. At last week’s Western & Southern Open, having already played two three set matches, it was obvious that the Scot was no physically or mentally sharp in his 2-6 2-6 defeat to Milos Raonic. However, the stakes are higher with it being a Grand Slam and perhaps there will be that extra motivation for Murray as he is playing a next-gen opponent.
However, another important factor to consider is that Auger-Alliasme will be seen by some to be the favorite for this match, especially due to Murray having played over four-and-a-half hours tennis already. It was a similar situation fellow NextGen player Frances Tiafoe faced at the Western & Southern Open. Leading by a set and being 5-1 up in the second set tiebreak, Tiafoe made an unforced error that would have taken him to have a match point. He then went on to lose the tiebreak and the match. So it is fair to say that this will be as just as big a mental test for the Canadian, as it will be a physical one.
It would be fair to say that perhaps Murray wasn’t as aggressive as he could have been in his first round win, especially in the opening two sets; he said himself that he was pacing himself throughout the match. Murray will have to make a high percentage of returns. More importantly, he will be looking to shorten the points, especially if he is feeling the physical affects from Monday. For Auger-Alliasime, he has a more powerful weight of shot than Nishioka and has a bigger weapons. However, he will be looking for consistency, especially on his first serve. Andy Murray will be happy to extend the rallies, knowing that there will be a strong possibility that his opponent will be looking to shorten the points.
Main Photo from Getty.