Former World No. 1 Andy Murray targets the second quarter-final of his comeback when he takes on eighth seed Pablo Cuevas at the European Open in Antwerp on Thursday night.
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Andy Murray squares off against Pablo Cuevas for the first time in five years when the pair battle it out for a place in the European Open quarter-finals in Antwerp on Thursday.
Looking to build on his encouraging match wins and performances during the Asian swing, Murray registered the sixth tour-level victory since returning to the tour from hip resurfacing surgery in his Antwerp opening round, overcoming Belgian wildcard Kimmer Coppejans in straight sets. It wasn’t the cleanest performance from Murray, who was twice forced to recover from a break down in the second set, but the Scot was nevertheless able to get the job done without relinquishing a set.
“I wasn’t that happy with some of the things I did on the court tonight. I didn’t serve well,” Murray said. “Mentally, in a lot of the matches I’ve played since I came back, when I’ve gotten ahead, I haven’t had that killer instinct. Before, when I got ahead, I felt like I played well from in front, whereas I haven’t been doing that so much recently.”
The fact Murray is being so hard on himself this early in his comeback illustrates just how high his self-expectations are – and give a good insight into his physical state, meaning his hip is holding up well if the three-time Grand Slam champion is frustrated that he’s not already playing better.
Murray is playing in Antwerp this week because his wife Kim is due to give birth to the couple’s third child at any stage over the next few weeks, and the Belgian city is the shortest flight back to the UK if he does indeed need to make a quick getaway home during the tournament.
After easing his way back into competition on the doubles circuit during the grass season, Murray made his singles comeback in August at the Cincinnati Masters and Winston-Salem Open, but after opening round defeats at those tournaments, he dropped down to Challenger level during the U.S. Open in Mallorca in order to restore some confidence, earning two wins at the Rafa Nadal Open. Murray then stepped back up to tour-level during the recent Asian swing and scored a number of impressive wins, beating Tennys Sandgren in Zhuhai, topping World No. 13 Matteo Berrettini and Cameron Norrie to reach the 500-level China Open quarter-finals and conquering Juan Ignacio Londero before going down in a tight three-setter to Fabio Fognini at the Shanghai Masters.
Attempting to make the second quarter-final of his comeback in Antwerp, can Murray make it past a man he hasn’t played in five years on Thursday night?
Pablo Cuevas is playing the European Open in Antwerp for the third time in his career, with the Uruguayan making the quarter-finals on debut in 2016, while he lost in the opening round to Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2017. Cuevas advanced to the second round earlier this week as he moved past Hugo Dellien in straight sets.
After bouncing back from career-threatening knee and back injuries from 2011 to 2013 as his ranking tumbled outside the top 1,000 in the world, Cuevas would hit his career-high ranking of No. 19 in 2016 and started to make more of an impact at the bigger tournaments in 2017, reaching his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final at the Madrid Masters, while he also made the quarter-finals of Indian Wells and earned his career-best victory over No. 3 Stan Wawrinka on his way to the last eight at Monte-Carlo. A broken foot saw him tumble down the rankings in 2018, with Cuevas falling to his lowest mark since 2014 (No. 87), but a 24-20 record in 2019 has seen him climb back up to a current ranking of No. 45, with his highlights this season including finishing runner-up in Estoril, winning two Challenger titles in Tunis and Aix en Provence, reaching semi-finals in Cordoba and Rio de Janeiro and making the third round of Roland Garros.
Murray and Cuevas have played twice before, with the Scot winning both matches in straight sets, but those encounters came at the 2007 U.S. Open and 2014 China Open. Obviously a lot has changed since then, but this is a very winnable match for Murray. Cuevas isn’t at his best indoors and his win over Dellien – who has barely played at tour-level in these conditions, doesn’t mean much. If Murray can tidy up his serve and continue to build on his level, this is a match he is every chance of winning to make the quarter-finals.