In the city that never sleeps, the man who never gives up reminded New Yorkers last night of why he was once their champion.
Andy Murray threatened to cause what would have constituted a huge upset at the US Open, before he was controversially beaten down by No 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who prevailed 2-6 7-6 3-6 6-3 6-4 in four hours and 48 minutes.
With every beautifully-timed groundstroke and cleverly changed angle, every rant at himself and his box, this was timewarp Murray as he transported himself back to where he was at his peak five years ago. Encounters like this, ridiculously high quality for a first round, are why he continues to play.
Andy Murray almost pulled off a big upset in the first round of the US Open on Monday
World No 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas was forced to work extremely hard, winning in five sets
Such was his enduring athleticism that it could easily slip the mind that he runs around with a large metal cap in his hip, the root cause of why his world ranking has slipped to a humbling 112.
The deciding set followed an eight-minute hiatus during which Tsitsipas left the court, angering his opponent and leading to a time violation. When Murray then lost his serve he turned to his support group and the word cheating was mentioned.
“You know as well as I do that this is an absolute disgrace,” he complained to courtside officials.
It is dangerous to rile the Scot, and Tsitsipas is gaining an unwanted reputation in the game for sharp practice. For all that, he came out swinging with his majestic backhand to secure an early break in the decider.
Murray showed plenty of the fight that made him one of the best players in the world
Murray kept coming back at him in a way which, once the dust has settled, should prove enormously encouraging. The roars inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium were not enough to help him quite prise open the door and the Greek held his nerve and just about managed to breast the line.
A key factor was the speeded-up courts at Flushing Meadows this year, which obliged Murray to play with aggressive intent and took time from his opponent. This has always been the way he looks his best.
Another sign of it being vintage Murray was him laying on a strange sideshow and the sight of him venting at his support box.
The reason on this occasion was him struggling with his footwear in the steaming heat, which caused both his shoes and socks to be wet through and affected his grip on the court.
Tsitsipas was the clear favourite but was forced to work extremely hard for the victory
Despite the conditions it appeared only one pair of sneakers had been packed into his kitbag. After the second set there was the bizarre sight of him pushing the courtside air-conditioning tube into his shoes in a bid to dry them off.
“You never look at the details, never,” he shouted over at his corner. New socks were eventually delivered.
The fact this was the first meeting between Tsitsipas and Murray spoke of what has happened in the last four years. While the Greek has been a fixture in the top ten, the former champion has missed so much tennis that there are several stars of the more recent vintage of whom he has little or no experience.
The two players put a on a thrilling show for the fans in attendance in New York City
Murray cannot have played better since the onset of his injury woes, and his intent was clear in a brilliant first set.
When he took it 6-2 with two breaks of serve it was the first time that he had taken one off a top five since the French Open semi-final of that year against Stan Wawrinka.
The 34 year-old Scot found superb rhythm on his serve and played aggressively throughout, beautifully judging when to come in to the net.
Perhaps most eye-catching was the way Murray was able to cover the corners of the court. When Tsitsipas drove into the far reaches he found the ball coming back, often with interest.
The American crowd showed their appreciation for Murray’s performance after the match
From the start of the second set he forced Murray to work harder to hold. Sensibly, he cut down on the drop shot tactic of the first set, designed to test out his opponent’s movement.
When the first tiebreak came he kept driving forward to wrongfoot his opponent, and then went 4-3 up with an inch perfect backhand lob that is his signature.
Two set points were created at 6-4, the best chance being the first, which he blew with a backhand into the net.
Struggling to keep his feet because his socks were so wet, he double faulted at 7-7, giving Tsitsipas the chance he needed to level.
Then came another tale of the unexpected. Murray had started to lose a little spring in his step but at the start of the third he got off to a rattling start, securing an early break and getting more pop once again on his serve.
Despite his shortage of tennis – only seven previous tournaments this year – there was energy in the legs and it carried him to a third set that was arguably better than the first.
Again the momentum shifted. Tsitsipas had summoned treatment to his ankle after a slip towards the end of set three, but then came roaring out in the fourth to fire winners and set up the denouement.