2012 champion and former-world #1 Andy Murray will be hoping he can further his comeback with victory over Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco, the 31st seed. Murray is playing his first Grand Slam event in over a year after a serious hip injury and his performances this summer have been broadly encouraging. But Verdasco, once an Australian Open semifinalist, has the quality to extend the Scot. Who will come out on top?
Murray and Verdasco have met 14 times on Tour and Murray has had the better of it, winning 13 of those matches. That included winning their first five contests, including in the final in St Petersburg in 2017. Verdasco snapped that run with a 2-6 6-1 1-6 6-3 6-4 win in the fourth round in Melbourne in 2009, but hasn’t scored another win since. He came closest to doing so five years ago at Wimbledon in the last eight, but failed to capitalise on a two-set lead, eventually losing 6-4 6-3 1-6 4-6 5-7.
Path to the second round
Murray opened his US Open campaign against James Duckworth of Australia. Duckworth, who has endured plenty of injury misery of his own, was one of the few men in the draw ranked below Murray. But he began brightly, taking the first set on a tiebreak. Unfortunately for Duckworth that was as good as it got. Murray started the second set with an early break and when he broke again late in the third set to seal it, the match was over. He wrapped up the 6-7 6-3 7-5 6-3 win shortly after.
Verdasco faced the always interesting test of his countryman Feliciano Lopez in the first round. Lopez, who is to take over as tournament director in Madrid next year, is coming to the end of his playing career but was a quarterfinalist in New York just three years ago. This year, it was not to be for him. Verdasco set the tone with a break early in the first set and he never looked back. Lopez battled manfully, but was ultimately outclassed 2-6 5-7 4-6.
How do they match up?
Murray, at his best, was a master of bringing even the most aggressively minded opponents to a grinding halt with his superb defensive skills. But he will have his work cut out against the power of Verdasco. The Spaniard possesses one of the best forehands in the game, hitting it with a combination of power and spin that only the great Nadal can better. His serve is also a formidable weapon, and he won 77% of the points behind his first and 74% of the points behind his second against Lopez.
But he did hit nine double faults, which is a number he will have to cut down on against a returner of Murray’s quality. However, issues that have plagued Murray since his return continued against Duckworth. His forehand dropped short more than he would have liked and he did not look entirely confident in his second serve. Duckworth, who has never been higher than 82nd in the world, proved unable to punish him. Verdasco, once the world #7, might.
His victory over Duckworth will have been a welcome one, but Murray faces a far greater challenge against Verdasco. The Spaniard looked ominously good against Lopez, and he will pull Murray from pillar to post. It is the sort of match Murray would have enjoyed and almost certainly won when he was at the peak of his powers. But now, short of form and fitness, Verdasco will have too much. Expect him to run Murray ragged and reach the third round in four sets.