Playing inside an empty stadium that holds a capacity of more than 23,000 people is an unfamiliar situation for players at this year’s US Open but for Andy Murray he managed to get support elsewhere.
Playing his first Grand Slam match since having a metal rod inserted into his hip joint last year, the former world No.1 battled back from two sets down to defeat Japanese world No.49 Yoshihito Nishioka after more than four hours of action. Making it only Murray’s second singles win in a major since the 2017 Wimbledon Championships.
Fans are excluded from attending this year’s tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic but Murray still had a series of notable onlookers during his match. At various times throughout Naomi Osaka, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem were all seen watching. Furthermore, a contingent of British players including Murray’s brother Jamie, Kyle Edmund and Neal Skupski showed their support for the three-time Grand Slam champion.
“This for me was one of the things that helped,” Murray commented. “It’s rare that you have lots of, like, players watching your watch. In some ways that can be a little bit distracting if you look up and you’ve got guys that are in the top 5, top 10 in the world watching you and stuff.”
“But for me, I had my father-in-law there. He was up in the suite watching me. I had my brother there with his coach watching. There were a few of the British players that came out to watch and support, as well.”
It was these onlookers who helped Murray to the finish line of his opening match. At one stage he was two sets and a break down to Nishioka. Then in the decider he was again down a break before fighting back to secure victory. Making it the 10th time the Brit has won from two sets down in his career.
“Although the atmosphere was very flat overall, at the end of the match and as I was starting to turn it around, I could at least look up and see some faces in different points of the court to give me a little bit of encouragement, which definitely, definitely helped,” he said.
Murray himself has also been seen watching matches from the sidelines, including Zverev’s opening encounter with Kevin Anderson. He believes doing so helps players during their matches and it is a good example of sportsmanship.
“I think for the players, just having some people there helps just a little bit,” he said.
“When Cameron Norrie was playing, quite a few of the British players went out to watch and support him, which we can do when there’s fans but it’s not quite the same because normally it’s pretty loud, certain times difficult to get seats and stuff.’
“I think it’s good if the guys can support each other. I just think it just helps a little bit if you’re on the court and there’s just a few people around. It’s better than no one, that’s for sure.”
Murray will play Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round.