Andy Murray claimed a hardfought 7-6(6) 3-6 6-1 first-round win over American Frances Tiafoe at the Western and Southern Open on Saturday, as the ATP Tour made a jarring return from a five-month COVID-19 hiatus.
From a tournament normally played in Cincinnati but moved to New York because of the coronavirus pandemic to masked ball boys and girls, there was very little normal about the return of professional men’s tennis.
With no spectators allowed into the sprawling Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, matches were played in eerie silence under the shadow of the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium that will be centerstage when the U.S. Open starts on Aug. 31.
Working his way back to match fitness after undergoing a second hip surgery in January, Murray got his first tournament of 2020 off to a positive start by surviving a near two-hour, 30-minute challenge from Tiafoe to reach the second round where a sterner test awaits in fifth seed Alexander Zverev.
“My goal is to come in and my hip to be feeling good,” said three-times Grand Slam champion Murray.
“That’s what I wanted so I don’t mind how much tennis I get to play, I know that will come the practice, the more matches I get but the concern for me is my hip going to be well enough,” the 33-year-old Briton added.
If Murray’s game showed rust, his battling instincts remained sharp, particularly in the first set tiebreak when he trailed 5-2 before fighting back to take control.
Tiafoe secured his only break to go up 5-4 in the second on the way to leveling the match but Murray, twice Western and Southern champion, broke the young American at the first opportunity in the third and closed out victory.
Canadian 12th seed Denis Shapovalov showed little rust in his first tournament since February as he reeled off nine aces to dispose of 2016 champion Marin Cilic 6-3 6-3.
With the win, Shapovalov, who faced just one break point over the course of the contest, improved his head-to-head record against the Croatian to 3-1.
Big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic fired 19 aces to topple Sam Querrey 6-4 6-4 and set up a second-round clash with either Dan Evans or Russian 10th seed Andrey Rublev.
Women’s play began with a rematch of the Shenzhen final in January and another upset as Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova toppled ninth seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan 7-5 7-6(6).
Croatian 15th seed Donna Vekic was also a first-round casualty, falling 6-2 6-3 to twice Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
The tournament also lost one of its marquee names when 13th- seeded Greek Maria Sakkari dispatched Coco Gauff 6-1 6-3 to spoil the 16-year-old American’s Western and Southern debut.
After a run to the Lexington semi-finals last week Gauff was put under pressure by her Greek opponent, committing 24 unforced errors and hitting only six winners.
Amanda Anisimova eased to a 6-3 6-3 victory in an all-American clash against 11th seed Alison Riske, while seven-time Slam champion Venus Williams was another high-profile casualty as she fell to Ukrainian 16th seed Dayana Yastremska 5-7 6-2 7-5.