There was a time where even Andy Murray himself thought his best days of tennis were not only behind him, but also that he’d have to leave the sport behind for good.
It was the 2019 Australian Open, a tournament where Murray had reached the finals five times and was coming off his second hip surgery in as many years. Prior to the start of that tournament, the then-31-year old announced that that tournament could potentially have been his last.
MORE: Why some of tennis’ biggest stars aren’t playing U.S. Open
But while Murray doubted his future nearly two and a half years ago, he left little doubt about his ability to play at a high level Monday night at the U.S. Open.
As a result of his injuries which led to poor showings — as well as missing significant time last year amid the pandemic and early tournament exits — Murray, the former three-time major champion, entered his match against current world No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas ranked No. 112 and as an underdog.
Murray dropped a crushing five-set loss to Tsitsipas after taking the first and third sets; Tsitsipas took the second, fourth and fifth, but it was the former’s comments after that got people talking.
Murray proved he could hang with top competition once again, but it remains to be seen if that’ll be the prevailing story from the 34-year old’s loss after he accused Tsitsipas of taking too long to go to the bathroom, or that he had taken too long during timeouts and in between games and sets.
Murray also said he had been prepared for Tsitsipas’ perceived antics, “especially if things weren’t going his way,” and that it wasn’t necessarily that Tsitsipas left the court, but rather for how long he did it.
“The issue is that you cannot stop the way that that affects you physically. When you’re playing a brutal match like that, stopping for seven, eight minutes, you do cool down,” Murray said. “You can prepare for it mentally as much as you like, but it’s the fact that it does affect you physically when you take a break that long, well, multiple times during the match.”
He also felt that the main breaks taken by Tsitsipas, after losing the third set and after winning the fourth, helped stymie his momentum and were some key stoppages that wound up affecting Murray more than he may have expected.
“It’s just disappointing because I feel it influenced the outcome of the match,” Murray said. “I’m not saying I necessarily win that match for sure but it had influence on what was happening after those breaks.”
In a match which lasted four hours and 48 minutes, the oft-injured Murray also questioned the validity of Tsitsipas’ need for medical attention, given that Murray felt there was nothing wrong and Tsitsipas was “fine, moving great I thought.”
In his 16th year as professional, Murray conceded that perhaps he shouldn’t have been as impacted by what transpired as he was, but argued that it’s easier to cope with the mental breaks after long timeouts and stoppages than the physical ones.
He also posited that perhaps he wasn’t the only player on the tour who felt this way. Murray admitted to the possibility that he could be in the wrong in his perception, but said other players are aware of Tsitsipas doing similar things in the past.
“If everyone else feels like that’s totally cool and there’s no issue with it, then maybe I’m the one being unreasonable. But I think it’s nonsense. And he knows it, as well,” Murray said. “He knows. The other players know. The fact that I was talking to my team about it before the match, we knew it was coming.”
Regardless of whether Murray knew what was coming or if he’s in the right for feeling as he did, Tsitsipas contends he did nothing wrong.
“I don’t think I broke any rules,” Tsitsipas said. “I played by the guidelines, how everything is. Yeah, definitely something for both of us to kind of chat about and make sure. I don’t know how my opponent feels when I’m out there playing the match. It’s not really my priority.”
Murray ran into troubles of his own, however, when after sweating out a grueling first, his shoes began to slip on the court and he didn’t have a spare pair — the first time he said it has happened to him.
Ultimately Murray’s comeback attempt fell short, though the sets he took against Tsitsipas were the first he took against a top-five opponent since 2017.
And though Murray acknowledged Tsitsipas’ talent, that’s where his praise of the 23-year old from Greece stopped.
“I think he’s a brilliant player. I think he’s great for the game. But I have zero time for that stuff at all, and I lost respect for him.”