NEW YORK — Andy Murray wore a coronavirus-conscious mask on his way to the unusual, no-spectators setting and avoided handshakes when he left. In between, the three-time Grand Slam champion offered his usual mix of hustling and muttering.
Murray’s first match in nine months as he resumes his climb back from two hip operations came at the first ATP tournament for anyone in five months, a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-1 victory over Frances Tiafoe at the Western & Southern Open on Saturday.
The men’s tennis tour had been suspended since March because of the coronavirus pandemic; the resumption came at a hard-court event moved from its home in Ohio to the site of the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 31.
Murray moved into a second-round test against No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev. Other men advancing Saturday included No. 15 Felix Auger-Aliassime, two-time Grand Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson, Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka. Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, was scheduled to face Denis Shapovalov at night.
“To have no sound during the whole match, it was really odd,” said Auger-Aliassime, the first winner of an ATP match since March, 6-4, 6-1 against Nikoloz Basilashvili. “Obviously, we’re used to it in practice, but now it’s an important match, it’s a Masters 1000, and to have nobody, to have no crowd, it feels weird.”
The women’s tour returned earlier this month, and among Saturday’s first-round results was No. 13 seed Maria Sakkari‘s 6-1, 6-3 win over 16-year-old Coco Gauff, while No. 9 Elena Rybakina was eliminated by Ekaterina Alexandrova 7-5, 7-6 (6). The winners included Victoria Azarenka, while Venus Williams faced Dayana Yastremska at night.
Murray had surgery on his hip in January 2018, and again in January 2019, and while he returned to action later last year, a pelvic problem prevented him from playing at the start of 2020.
There were stretches against Tiafoe during which the former No. 1-ranked man looked as if he’d never left, including when Murray erased a 5-2 hole in the tiebreaker to grab six of that set’s last seven points, capped by a down-the-line forehand passing shot.
After Tiafoe was better in the second set, Murray quickly regained control. He broke for a 2-0 edge in the third with some classic scrambling defense on a 13-stroke exchange until Tiafoe flubbed a volley.