The Scot had beaten Francisco Cerundolo 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 in two hours and 42 minutes. It was his first straight sets win at a grand slam tournament in five years (the last was against Benoit Paire in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2017). There were no signs of cramp and no sign of the frailties have sometimes crept into his game of late when he puts himself in a winning position. Instead, this was a good, solid performance against a man who has shot up the rankings since the start of the season.
True enough, Murray was broken as he served for all three sets but he was able to break Cerundolo’s serve almost at will. It was just a minor blemish on his report card.
“It's obviously nice any time, especially in those conditions and early on in a slam, to get through in straight sets,” he said. “Mentally it's not easy going into a five-set match in those conditions after the way the last few weeks have been for me, and I did well. I did well physically and mentally to put that to the back of my mind and find a way to get through. So I was really happy with that.”
Cerundolo set out for Australia in January as the world No.127; he arrived in New York at the world No.27 with his first career title safely in the bank (he won in Bastad just after Wimbledon). At the age of 24 and with a former champion at his mercy, the Argentine could have been forgiven for being utterly ruthless and doing anything, legal or otherwise, to win. But he is not that sort of player.
When Murray looked incredulous to have lost a point on what he believed was a double bounce in the first set, Cerundolo stopped. The umpire, Timo Janzen had already called the score. The point was over; 15-15. But as the point was replayed in slow motion on the big screen, it was obvious that Janzen had made a mistake – and Cerundolo gave the point to Murray. It was now 0-30 on the Argentine’s serve as he tried to stay in the set. It was not that particular point that cost him the set but it left him in a deep hole.
As they shook hands at the net two hours later, Murray told his rival: “What you did in the first set was really impressive. Not many people would have done that. I really appreciate it.”
“What he did was brilliant,” Murray explained afterwards, “and I don't think that loads of players on the tour would have done that. Fair play to him; he didn't have to do that.”
Murray now plays Emilio Nava, the 20-year-old wild card from the United States who beat the vastly more experienced John Millman in five sets yesterday. Nava had only played three main draw matches on the ATP tour until he reached New York – and he had not won any of them. It seems unlikely that Murray will let him win his second in succession tomorrow.