After years of injury struggles, Andy Murray completed a heartening victory over fifth seed Alexander Zverev to reach the third round of the Western & Southern Open in New York.
World No.7 Zverev served for the match but Murray, a wildcard, escaped to win 6-3 3-6 7-5, completing the two-and-a-half hour battle with a backhand return winner.
It marked his first top-10 win in more than three years, and the highest-ranked opponent he has defeated since beating Novak Djokovic in the ATP Finals decider in 2016.
Djokovic, the top seed in New York, overcome a troublesome neck and recovered from a break down in each set to see off Ricardas Berankis 7-6(2) 6-4.
The world No.1 improved his win-loss record to a perfect 19-0 in 2020.
Meanwhile, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka restored some order to the women’s draw with three-set victories on Monday.
Williams survived a tough encounter against Dutch lefty Arantxa Rus to eventually win 7-6(6) 3-6 7-6(0) after two hours and 48 minutes, while Osaka came through a high-quality battle with talented Czech Karolina Muchova, sealing a 6-7(5) 6-4 6-2 victory on her 12th ace.
Following the exits of top two seeds Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin a day earlier, Williams and Osaka are the only top-10 players remaining in the women’s draw.
Joining them in the last 16 was former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka, who beat Carolina Garcia 6-2 7-6(8) to win consecutive matches for the first time since Wimbledon 2019.
Yet there were still some notable upsets on the tournament’s third day, with Petra Kvitova bowing out in three sets to fellow Czech Marie Bouzkova, and men’s No.2 seed Dominic Thiem suffering a shocking 6-2 6-1 loss to Serb Filip Krajinovic.
Dominic Thiem. "I mean, it was just a horrible game by myself. Didn't play well at all. Didn't get any rhythm."— José Morgado (@josemorgado) August 25, 2020
Said he couldn't find any rythm on the return (won just two points) and can't explain why... yet.
Murray makes strides
For Murray, currently ranked No.134, tennis’s five-month suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic appears to have given him that extra time necessary to heal from a pelvic injury stemming from his hip procedure.
Playing his first competitive matches since November 2019, the former world No.1 beat Frances Tiafoe in round one and surged ahead 4-1 in the third set against Zverev before the German reeled off four straight games.
But Zverev collapsed when serving for the match, hitting three double faults to allow Murray to break back, and another two double faults when serving to stay in it.
Murray won 10 of the final 12 points of the match.
“I don’t think either of us played particularly well when we were close to the finishing line, but (that was) maybe to be expected since we haven’t played any matches for such a long period,” said Murray, whose last top-10 victory came against Kei Nishikori at Roland Garros in 2017.
“He didn’t serve so well at the end, which obviously helped me but I fought hard and it is a good effort to win that after not playing for a while.”
Murray next faces Milos Raonic, who beat Dan Evans 6-3 7-5. It will be a rematch of their 2016 Wimbledon final.
Also advancing to the third round was defending champion and No.3 seed Daniil Medvedev, yet Canadian young guns Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime – seeded 12th and 15th respectively – bowed out.
Women’s stars win
It was another struggle on court for Williams, who has now been stretched to three sets in all four of her matches since tennis has resumed.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion was forced to save a set point in the opening set against Rus, and let slip a 5-2 lead in the third set before steadying in the final tiebreak.
She will play 13th seed Maria Sakkari for a spot in the quarters.
"I'm actually super fit and I'm super ready. I feel like I'm ready for anything. I'm taking it a day at a time. I'm going to see how I feel tomorrow obviously. But I'm ready. I'm excited,” Williams said.
"Now I feel like I have passed that test (against Rus), and now I can pass the test at the Open, playing Ashe Stadium.”
The US Open begins at the same venue on 31 August.
Osaka, a US Open champion in 2018 after beating Williams in the final, was playing her first match in more than six months.
It was an impressive display from the fourth seed, who won 81 per cent of her first-serve points against Muchova and produced 28 winners on the quick hard court.
"I felt very nervous (to start) ... I knew that she was a really great player, so I'm glad that I was able to take the opportunities that I could. I know I have to be here for a while so I might as well make the most out of the time,” Osaka laughed.
"I think I'm more assured of myself (since the break) and I'm definitely more calm and collected, and hopefully I can keep that going.”
Osaka next faces No.16 seed Dayana Yastremska.
Fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka and No.8 seed Johanna Konta also won through to the third round on Monday.