Two and a half years after he last played an ATP Tour final, Andy Murray faces Stan Wawrinka for the title at the European Open in a bid to make it back-to-back British champions in Antwerp.
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Into his first final since March 2017, Andy Murray resumes an old rivalry with Stan Wawrinka at the European Open in Antwerp.
Playing top-level singles tennis after a hip resurfacing operation may be uncharted territory, but Murray is rapidly charting it. Nine months on from fearing he would be forced into early retirement, from undergoing surgery which could have ended his career in a bid to save it (and more significantly, end months of constant pain), and playing just the seventh singles event of his comeback, Murray is into the 68th ATP singles final of his career.
Murray decided to play the last ATP Tour event of his season in Antwerp because of its proximity to home, where his wife Kim is pregnant with their third child, and the decision has paid off in spades. After encouraging signs in Asia, where he got the first ATP Tour-level singles win of his comeback in Zhuhai, then the first top-20 win over Matteo Berrettini and first back-to-back wins in Beijing and competed well against world no. 12 Fabio Fognini in Shanghai, Murray has brought that returning form to Antwerp to win three matches in a row for the first time since the Citi Open last July (a tournament which saw him sobbing in his chair, and ultimately giving a walkover).
It’s the first time Murray has won four matches in a row since Wimbledon in 2017 when his title defense was ended in the quarterfinals by Sam Querrey, and if it hasn’t always gone smoothly it has contained plenty of sort-of vintage Murray. After straight-set wins over Belgian wildcard Kimmer Coppejans and Pablo Cuevas, Murray looked on the verge of a straightforward win over Marius Copil in the quarterfinals, only to be broken when serving for the match and having to win in three. Against Ugo Humbert on Saturday, the challenge was different again as Murray had to come back from a set down, having failed to convert two early break points at 2-2 in the opener before being broken himself in the next game as he netted a forehand.
Humbert, serving well, took the first set and although Murray snatched an early break in the second to lead 3-1, he handed it back promptly. It looked as if the British player’s batteries had run out, but he hung on grimly as Humbert started to make a few more errors, and pounced with the French player serving to stay in the second set at 5-6 only to cough up a fateful double fault on set point. Murray clawed his way out of a 0-40 hole as he served to open the decider, broke Humbert to 15 in the next game and never looked back as he wrapped up a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory.
It’s the second year in a row that the European Open will feature a British player in the final after Kyle Edmund won the title last year – and there’s a nice synergy to the fact that the first ATP final of Murray’s comeback will see him face an old rival like Wawrinka, a man whose struggles have in many ways mirrored Murray’s own over the past two years. Since they played in the semifinals of the French Open in May 2017 – the match in which Murray said his hip problems started – both men have had protracted absences from the tour, undergone surgeries (Wawrinka had multiple knee operations in the latter half of 2017) and undergone painful comeback journeys beset with setbacks.
Wawrinka never got as far as an on-court retirement ceremony, but Murray’s fellow three-time Grand Slam champion has had plenty of difficult moments, his ranking dropping as low as world no. 261 last summer; only in the past few months has the former world no. 3 returned to the top 20. Currently ranked world no. 18, Wawrinka – who famously once sent Murray a teddy bear as big as himself as a get-well-soon gift – made his most recent ATP final in Rotterdam in February, and reached the quarterfinals of the French and US Opens in 2019, but continues to battle for fitness; before this week in Antwerp he hadn’t played since losing to Daniil Medvedev in New York at the beginning of September.
Wawrinka might be peaking at the right time in Antwerp. After three-set battles with Feliciano Lopez and Gilles Simon, he played his best match of the week to thoroughly dominate young Jannik Sinner 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals. Sinner did not offer too much to confound or perplex Wawrinka, who was mainly able to comfortably play his game, and Murray will of course be a much more wily opponent; he leads their head-to-head record 11-8. But Wawrinka looks to have found his best tennis of the week at the right time after shaking the rust off his legs, while Murray might well be on his last legs after playing so much more tennis than he’s been accustomed to in recent years; not since Dubai in February 2017 has he had to play five matches in a single week. I strongly feel that winning the title is going to be a bridge too far for Murray against such quality opposition as Wawrinka, but merely having got this far is a huge achievement as well and there’s no shame in losing to Wawrinka at the best of times.
Murray vs Wawrinka European Open tennis is live from Antwerp on Sunday at 4pm local/3pm BST
Murray vs Wawrinka tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – First final of Murray’s comeback in Antwerp sees old rivalry resumed
Two and a half years after he last played an ATP Tour final, Andy Murray faces Stan Wawrinka for the…
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