He was beaten 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-3 by Matteo Berrettini in the third round of the US Open. But he fought, he battled and had he served better, he might have got the result he wanted. No matter, he was still proud not just of what he had done this past week but of how far he has come in the past five years since his right hip imploded and almost ended his career.
“I think I'm improving this year,” he said. “I don't even know what ranking I was at the beginning of the year, but I'm now around 40-ish in the world and still going hard. I want to push and see how far I can go.
“Lots of people told me I wouldn't be able to play again, and lots of people told me I'd be able to hit tennis balls but not compete professionally again. That was nonsense, and I want to see how close I can get back to the top of the game. That's what the motivation is.”
“I've got a metal hip. It's not easy playing with that. It's really difficult. I'm surprised I'm still able to compete with guys that are right up at the top of the game. Matches like today, you know, I'm really proud that I have worked myself into a position where I'm able to do that.”
What soon became apparent on Friday was that if Murray could drag Berrettini into an extended rally, he generally ended up winning the point. The problem was getting that rally started. Any point that lasted longer than four shots tended to go to Murray but for the first couple of sets, the average length of each point was only around four shots. He was not getting the chance to put his gameplan into action.
The root of his problems was that his serve was misfiring for the first two sets. While the Italian was doing just as Murray had predicted by serving with both power and consistency, the former champion was only landing 47 per cent of his first serves in play. When he needed to be sharp and aggressive to move the big man around, he found himself trying to do it on the back of a second serve.
Matters improved in the third set: Murray’s serving percentage improved and crept into the 60 per cent range and he stepped up to the baseline to take the fight to his opponent. Sure enough, Berrettini still had plenty of break point chances but as he admitted, he was not brave enough when they came along.
When Murray broke the Italian’s serve at the start of the fourth set, the crowd roared him on. Much as Berrettini is one of New Yorkers’ favourites, they were cheering for Murray. But no sooner had he got his nose in front than he dropped his serve to love and the momentum was back with the Italian.
When he failed to convert a beak point a few games later, one that would have given him a 4-3 lead, Murray’s slender chance of reaching the fourth round evaporated. A couple of minutes later Berrettini had reached the fourth round and Murray was on his way home.