Andy Murray returned to grand slam tennis a winner as he battled past James Duckworth and into the second round of the US Open.
After missing four successive grand slam tournaments with the hip problem that forced him to have surgery in January, just stepping back onto a match court at one of tennis’ biggest events was already a victory of sorts.
But Murray still fervently believes he can get back to the top of the sport and, although this performance will not have set any alarm bells ringing among his rivals, it was a positive start.
After dropping the first set on a tie-break, Murray gradually began to take control against Duckworth, who could empathise with his opponent having undergone five operations since the start of 2017.
Murray eventually ground out a 6-7 (5/7) 6-3 7-5 6-3 victory in hot and sticky conditions on the new Louis Armstrong Stadium and moves through to a second-round clash with 31st seed Fernando Verdasco.
The Scot said: “At times it was tricky especially early on, it was very lively, very hot. James was serving big and playing a lot of drop shots, throwing me off rhythm. I was happy I managed to get through that and play some good stuff at times.
At times it was tricky especially early on, it was very lively, very hot. James was serving big and playing a lot of drop shots, throwing me off rhythm. I was happy I managed to get through that and play some good stuff at times.Andy Murray
“I’ve lost a lot of matches out here over the years, I’ve struggled a lot, but it’s like a new beginning. It was beautiful, a great atmosphere and I’m very, very happy to be back.”
Murray never seemed comfortable in the tight confines of the old Louis Armstrong and had many tough battles on there, so the space and airiness of the new court - as well as some shade - was very welcome.
This was only his fifth tournament and eighth match since returning to the match court at Queen’s Club in June, so these are very much still baby steps.
Murray’s shots lack the penetration of old while his second serve often barely crept above 70 miles per hour, but his movement is improving all the time and ultimately he was too good for Duckworth.
When he sprinted to pick up a drop volley and guide the ball down the line to set up match point, celebrating as he raced past the net, it was almost as if he had never been away.
Duckworth, a 26-year-old once ranked as high as 82 but now down at 448 following three surgeries on his foot and one each on a shoulder and elbow, did not allow Murray to get comfortable early on and more often than not was the aggressor, particularly off his backhand.
He dug in very well to take the first-set tie-break and, after Murray stepped up in the second set, the third was the crux of the contest.
Murray’s groundstrokes at last began to push Duckworth back and he played a fine point to break serve in the final game, the Australian’s racket paying the price.
It was Murray slamming his racket angrily to the ground after dropping serve in the opening game of the fourth set but he broke straight back and looked encouragingly fresh as he wrapped up victory after three hours and 18 minutes.