With the usual rousing reception in what has become Team GB’s spiritual tennis home, the first tie started nice and promisingly with Murray staving off break points to get on the board.
There were some exceptional moments of brilliance too, with some downright cheeky lobs, bring Del Potro lumbering forth and then leaving stranded in a sea of blue court for the winner, but it was not long before the Tower of Tandil was getting his eye in.
Murray’s serving was a let down completely in the first set as Del Potro warmed to the task, picking up pace at will and leaving Murray struggling to find any kind of relief. Even an early break by the Brit couldn’t be held on to, and it seemed a foregone conclusion that Del Potro would get his nose in front, holding his own serves comfortably and taking the first set.
Murray’s body language, not surprisingly looked dejected – even when trying to inject a bit more pep and aggression into his game at the change of ends, ahead on serve he sat head in hands. One of the best gets in the match with Murray scurrying back to defend a Del Potro lob for a passing winner and he started to look just a little more dangerous.
Mind you on the subject of dangerous, the excitable crowd almost landed the home side in hot water – a single roar from a fan on a Del Potro shot they thought was wide set the whole crowd off. The players kept going but the Argentine pulled wide to hand Murray the set, prompting him to demand to see the supervisor, with umpire Pascal Maria sternly reminding the crowd to have respect for both players and not call out.
More drama was to come though, with some spicy death stares coming from both players after Murray dumped a ball in the net at the end of another one of their epic rallies. But more was to come when another call accompanying a Del Potro serve stopped Murray in his tracks – of course Del Potro had only to tap the ball past Murray for the lead, with the Brits giving vent to umpire Pascal Maria.
To Murray’s credit he bottled the inevitable anger, to hold and break to nudge ahead once more for 6-5. The eventual tie-break looked like it would be a runaway train for the Brit, with Del Potro clawing his way back to 5-5, before Murray took the 2-1 lead for the hosts.
How quickly the tide can turn through, as a curiously loose game put Del Potro in the driving seat in the fourth set as he swiftly built up a lead, from the break 3-1 and kept that advantage to force a decider.
It is worth noting that the last time the Argentinean played a five-setter was in the 2014 Australian Open. At this stage in the proceedings it would really be who blinked first. It was certainly Del Potro who looked the fresher of the two, dictating the rallies on Murray’s service games and sending him right and left. Murray had to dig deep as once more his first serve seemed to go missing.
The frustration was mounting as Murray barked at a member of the crowd to keep the noise down between first and second serves but was once more beaten by a stunning passing shot as the break went to Argentina. We saw in his US Open battle again at Paolo Lorenzi that Murray;’s errors racked up as he was pressing, and we saw that again as Del Potro consolidated with ease.
Murray had to dig as deep as he ever has pulling up ace after ace to hang in and ask Del Potro the serve it out question. It was his turn for a few missed forst serves and again we saw some of the best of Murray’s defence.
Perhaps fittingly Del Potro finished the match with an ace, giving the visitors the first point on the board, after an epic 5 hours and 7 minutes.
Murray wasted no time coming into press – on what has been a difficult day for the family with the brothers’ paternal grand-father being laid to rest. Murray had skipped press duties on Thursday after the draw to attend a family gathering and to pay his respects with brother Jamie Murray attending the funeral during the match.
Declaring himself very proud of the effort he put in today, he said: “It was very fine margins. That happens in tennis and sport sometimes, could have gone either way. He played a little bit better in the fifth set, but I mean there wasn’t much difference in the match.
“He’s playing extremely well just now. Whether that’s the same as it was before, better than it was before, it’s really very difficult to say.”
In the post-draw press conference, Smith had mentioned how robust Murray was physically and mentally, and given the circumstances, Murray admitted the week had been difficult.
He said: “It’s been hard, but I always planned on playing.”
The nominations have three singles players (Kyle Edmund, Dan Evans making up the team along with Jamie Murray for the doubles) which begged the question how ready would Murray be to play again and indeed across all three days.
“[I’ll] have to see how I feel when I wake up tomorrow, and then probably make a decision then,” he said. “[I’ve] never played a match that long. I mean I’ve played close to that length but none after an extremely long stretch of playing so I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow when I wake up.”
It was Del Potro’s longest match as well, and especially after his injury trials and tribulations, he was left feeling pretty mangled as he chuckled through the pain.
He said: [I’m] so tired. I got cramps everywhere but that was right after the match so it was I think my longest match of my career and I won that against Andy, playing here – it’s very special for me.
“Also the way of my tennis. I think we play for 5 hours in very high level, both and the crowd enjoyed that and of course when you win this kind of matches, it’s great.”
In the second rubber, Kyle Edmund was defeated in four sets by Guido Pella for Argentina to go into Day 2 with a 2-0 lead.
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