For the second time in little over three months Andy Murray has had to come from two sets down to win a match in a grand slam event. However admirable his fight was in seeing off Robin Haase in the second round of the US Open last night, he has cause to worry as well as to celebrate.
There were moments in the three hours and 23 minutes of his 6-7, 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-4 win over the Dutchman when his head-shaking, swearing persona accurately reflected the standard of his tennis. He had every right to be furious with his maddening inconsistency and loss of concentration. Yet he redeemed himself with the most exhilarating fightback and a closing few games that reached new levels of tension, as Murray held his nerve and Haase cracked, physically as well as mentally.
"If I play like [that again] I might be going home," said Murray. "I need to make sure I'm moving well in the next match otherwise it's bad news. I just wasn't playing well [at the start]. I was moving really poorly and that's not good for my game. Once I started to move better towards the end of the third set my game was so much better."
Murray can only hope that Feliciano López, whom he meets on Sunday and also endured five sets before turning back the stubborn challenge of the Canadian qualifier, Vasek Pospisil, is similarly out of sorts – or that he recovers the rhythm that was building nicely in Cincinnati two weeks ago.
"I'm not going to beat Andy playing from the baseline and waiting for him to miss," said Lopez, who lost to Murray for the fifth time in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon this year. "I have to be really aggressive, to play my game and to believe."
There is no denying the Scot's resilience and determination, however. This is the sixth time in his career he has let an opponent go two sets ahead before coming back to win. Against Viktor Troicki in the fourth round of the French Open in May he was two sets down and trailing 5-2 in the fifth. The Serb even got to 30-love on his serve when leading 5-3 – and still lost. Murray gets down but he gets up when all looks lost.
Towards the end here on the Louis Armstrong Court he was playing some delightful stuff – although he did look like blowing a 4-0 lead at one point – as Haase buckled under the strain of reaching for only his second third-round engagement in a major. Where he had been dominant at the start Murray rediscovered his killer instincts and his radar when it mattered.
That a stunning running forehand by Murray in the third game of the fifth set stands out vividly in the memory says much for the collection of ill-directed and poorly hit shots either side of it – from both players. The dysfunctional parts of Murray's game are easy to identify, not quite so easy to rectify. He spends at least half an hour a day on his serve, for instance, ramping up the speed to give himself the most reliable insurance a tennis player can have. Yesterday he went to cash in on that investment and found the account was almost empty.
In all he hit 21 aces, eight double faults and 46 unforced errors; he converted 10 of 16 break points but provided Haase with 20 such opportunities. These are discrepancies that defy logic.
The fourth seed was hardly complacent, having lost to Haase in their only previous meeting, three years ago in Rotterdam, and was well aware of the Dutchman's five-setter against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last year.
What disturbed Murray's equilibrium on a windy day was his own inner waywardness. It is a mystery, to him and everyone else, why these lapses occur, but when they strike they are debilitating. If the fifth was his zenith, the second was his nadir. Serving to stay in the set, he lost serve tamely and the despondency on his face was graphic. He won only one of 13 points on his second serve in that set, a ridiculously low eight per cent.
Murray started with a muscular flourish, hitting three aces in the first game, including break point, and another two in the third. It could hardly have contrasted more vividly with what was to unfold.
His ground strokes were not clicking and only his serve was keeping him in touch. When his serve also gave up on him and a double fault handed Haase three break points, he looked suitably bewildered. Haase hit the first of his five aces to lead 5-3 before they both struggled their way to a tie-break in which Murray led 4-1 before losing seven points in a row.
Murray carried his jitters into the second set and the gloom deepened for the perplexed Scot. Even when he held serve in the fourth game he was unconvincing. Haase sensed his nerves. Murray served his sixth double fault to drop serve. When Haase went 5-2 up, there was no disguising the anxiety in Murray's tennis or among his support staff.
This was a serious dysfunction and he did not know how to fix it.Haase's back looked to go on him and Murray cruised through the third and fourth sets comfortably enough but the dash to the line was more a stagger by both players, culminating in wonderful, agonising drama at the end. Murray suffers for his art and his fans suffer with him.