By John Delong
Andy Murray’s time at the Winston-Salem Open turned out to be short-lived.
The former World No. 1 lost his WSO debut on Monday night, as Tennys Sandgren pulled out a 7-6 (8), 7-5 first-round victory on Center Court.
The match ended well after midnight after rains caused an almost five-hour delay and forced several other matches to be postponed. Murray and Sandgren didn’t get started until 10:15 p.m.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Sandgren said. “It was a strange day with all the rain and we were happy just to get out there. Everyone was excited obviously about Andy getting out there. His career speaks for itself so to have him here and being able to compete against him was just a pleasure for me. It was a tough, physical match so I’m just happy to get through.”
Murray was playing just his second singles match since the Australian Open, as he continues to recover from hip surgery. After playing doubles three times in recent weeks, he played his first singles match last week in a loss to Richard Gasquet in Cincinnati.
The 32-year-old Scot said his performance was probably a bit better than his performance in Cincinnati.
“It’s tough to say exactly, but some things were better,” Murray said. “I was hitting the ball a little cleaner maybe than I was in Cincinnati. It was a different matchup the way points were constructed, that was a little different, but I was probably hitting the ball a little cleaner than last week. I thought I moved fairly well on some drop shots which maybe last week I wasn’t running to. So there were some good things in there, but obviously some things I’d like to do better.
“I felt good physically. I think maybe in the second set I didn’t serve that well and maybe that was a case of being a little bit tired. I was not getting many first serves in. But physically I think it was okay considering there was no pain, no discomfort. I was just a little more tired than usual.”
Murray had said on Sunday that he had low expectations for this point of his comeback. He suggested that maybe now he would drop down and play a Challenger or two if that’s what it takes to get the matches he needs moving forward. He is not playing singles or doubles at the US Open next week.
“I’m quite aware of where I am right now and what my level is,” Murray said. “My play at this level needs to be better, so I might need to drop down a level and play, play a level down to get some matches before I start playing the Tour again.
“Matches, that’s what I need. I’ve done enough training and rehab over the last two years go last me a lifetime. I’d just like to get matches and see the points develop a little better. I’m still a little slow with that. One of the strengths of my game should be building points, and that’s not where I’d like it to be right now. That’s what I’m hoping will come with more matches.”
Murray had kind words about his brief time in Winston-Salem.
“The tournament is very nice,” he said. “It’s very easy for everyone with the practice courts. The people here are nice. They seem like they’re into their tennis here. The conditions are pretty similar to what they play in New York. So it was all good.”
Sandgren came into the match ranked No. 73 but had lost his opening-round match in three straight tournaments. He had four set points in the first-set tie-break before finally wrapping up the set, and then he opened the second set by breaking Murray twice for a 3-0 lead. Murray fought back to get back on serve at 5-5, but Sandgren regrouped and broke, then served out the match.
“It’s a big win for me,” Sandgren said. “Besides who I was playing, I feel I’ve been building a little momentum for the Open. I feel things are coming together for me. Tonight I felt like I played pretty good. And I thought he played pretty good. I never played him when he was at his best, but I thought he played pretty good tonight. So I’m happy with the way it all played out.”