By Steve Keating
NEWYORK (Reuters) – Andy Murray lived up to his pre-tournament prediction that he would not win this year’s U.S. Open when he was beaten 7-5 2-6 6-4 6-4 by Spain’s Fernando Verdasco in the second round on Wednesday.
The former-world number one and 2012 U.S. Open champion, who is still working his way back from hip surgery and had earlier downplayed his chances, battled Verdasco for nearly three hours and 30 minutes before finally surrendering on a fourth match point while trying to force a fifth set.
“I think some of the tennis I played today was some of the best I’ve played since I had the surgery or since I came back,” said Murray.
“But there were also periods in the match, especially in the first set where I really didn’t play particularly well.
“Then kind of at the end when my back was against the wall, I came up with some good tennis to make it close and interesting.”
Playing in just his fifth event since hip surgery in January, what Murray lacked in sharpness he more than made up for in gritty determination as the 31-year-old battled through a gruelling opening set that lasted 62 minutes.
Drenched in sweat, Murray slowly began to find his comfort zone in the sauna like conditions taking the second to level the match.
But Verdasco would not be rattled and dominated large chunks of play until the end of the clash, when Murray dug in and the 31st seeded Spaniard struggled to seal the match.
“It was tough of course to close the match,” said Verdasco, after collecting just his second win in 15 matches against Murray and his first in nine years.
“With Andy it is always tough. He is an … unbelievable fighter.”
Verdasco will face yet another former-U.S. Open champion in the third round in big-hitting Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, who was a 6-3 6-1 7-6(4) winner over American Denis Kudla.
Murray, meanwhile, leaves Flushing Meadows with all signs pointing he is headed in the right direction.
“It’s still quite early in this process for me,” said Murray. “I did all right. I chased balls down right to the end of the match. I wasn’t giving up on points.
“But you just don’t know exactly what’s round the corner.
“If things keep going smoothly, physically I continue to improve, I believe that I will get back to competing for the biggest competitions because there’s no reason why I couldn’t.
“But you don’t know.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)