Having suffered for his art against Adrian Mannarino on Wednesday, Andy Murray badly needed a routine straight-sets victory to get his US Open back on track. And that is what he delivered last night against an outclassed Thomaz Bellucci, moving through to the fourth round by a 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 margin.
The entertainment on Arthur Ashe Stadium ended at around 11pm, two-and-a-half hours earlier than it had after Rafael Nadal’s lengthy defeat the previous night. It was hardly a classic that will live in the memory banks, but it achieved the desired result by smoothing Murray’s passage into the last 16, where he will play Kevin Anderson on Monday.
In the five-setter against Mannarino, there had been early warning signs as Murray’s footwork looked sluggish and his forehand lacked bite. He eased into his work more quickly against Bellucci, the 30th seed, although he still dropped his second service game in the face of some heavy pressure, and admitted after the match that there might have been an element of “Here we go again” in his mind as he sat down at that first change of ends.
“When he got that break earlier I was a bit worried,” Murray told his former coach Brad Gilbert in the on-court interview. “He was striking the ball very well at the beginning. Thankfully I managed to get the break straight back. I felt like I played well after that. I used my variety well and made it tough for him.”
Bellucci is a left-hander who prefers clay courts because of his extreme forehand grip. If you give him anything too loopy, any balls that bounce up nicely above waist height, he crushes them into the corners. So Murray used the slice a lot, trying to make his opponent dig the ball out from below the height of the net. If the great West Indian fast bowlers were known for their chin music, this was Murray’s shin music, and it drew a steady stream of errors.
Bellucci put up a strong fight in the remainder of the match, and played his part in some enjoyable long cat-and-mouse rallies, but he never forced another break point against a player who simply had too many options against him.
After the match, Murray was asked about the importance of efficiency after his previous outings – which included not only the 3hr 17min epic against Mannarino but also a tricky 2hr 43min opener against Nick Kyrgios. “It was very important for me today,” he replied. “My last match was extremely tough physically and mentally. It was a lot cooler today, which helped, so to get the win in three sets in much cooler conditions, I’ll get a day to recover now and get ready for the next one.”
Now fully recovered from the head cold that afflicted him for much of the first week, Murray has a chance to reboot and reassert his position among the tournament favourites. But he will still need to lift his level one more time if he is to beat Anderson, the 15th seed, and maintain his extraordinary record of reaching the quarter-finals of every grand slam he has entered for the past five years.