Andy Murray returned to Davis Cup competition after three years away against a young Dutchman who admits punctuality is not his strong point. But Tallon Griekspoor, 179 in the world, certainly turned up on time on Wednesday to worry the life out of the his childhood hero before succumbing in three sets of the highest quality.
Murray had to soak up 23 aces in grinding out a 6-7 (7) , 6-4, 7-6 (5) win in nearly three hours against a 23-year-old clay-courter from the Challenger Tour.
Murray said courtside afterwards: “I’m obviously relieved. I don’t think I deserved to win. I fought really hard at the end but he dictated a lot of the match. He was going for huge second serves. I fought hard. It was tough. We knew he hurt his ankle four weeks ago. An hour before the match [Griekspoor decided to play]. I didn’t know much about him.
“He’s had some good wins this year. He took some chances on his serve, put me on the back foot. The atmosphere was brilliant. That was the one concern I had in the new format. You want to see that in every match. For a start, it was a really good atmosphere.”
There was little indication in the first set of the trouble to come and they and continued on even terms all the way to the tie-break.
Griekspoor got to set point in the shootout as the clock ticked past the hour, but Murray levelled as they swapped ends for the second time. He clipped the top of the net with a swinging serve that would have aced the Dutchman – and pulled it off at the second time. Griekspoor, with ball in hand, saved set point with a strong second serve and on they battled.
Murray hit long and had to save again on his serve, but Griekspoor found a booming forehand to take the first set. The stadium, about two-thirds full, mumbled audibly as the prospect of a tremor loomed.
What might have looked like a mismatch had turned into a genuine struggle. Griekspoor, who retired injured without winning a game in the first set against his compatriot and world No 270 Botic van de Zandschlup in the first round of a Challenger in Hamburg last month, was playing at the peak of his powers behind a drilling serve. His 11 aces in the first hour certainly hurt Murray, who strained for movement across the baseline.
But the Scot, who has been in this situation a few times before, gritted his teeth and hit back quickly in the second set. When he broke and held without incident, normal service seemed to have been resumed.
However, Griekspoor, buoyed by his early success, continued to hit big. Murray had to be at his most vigilant to guard his lead. A glorious passing shot down the line in the sixth game was encouraging, a double fault less so, and Griekspoor stayed in the fight to earn two break points, sealing it when he forced a netted backhand.
Even when Murray restored his lead in the next game, there was nothing straightforward about his progress and he had to dig deep on every point all the way to the 10th game, which he held to love to level at a set apiece.
A ripple of relief ran through the large British support, but there were anxious moments to come, as Murray botched a leaping smash in the fourth game of the deciding set and Griekspoor broke with another big forehand down the line.
Griekspoor, who lost to Liam Broady in qualifying at Wimbledon this year but has a smattering of decent wins on a patchy cv – Stan Wawrinka in Rotterdam last year, Karen Kachanov there this year – was playing inspired tennis. He smashed his 19th and 20th aces to hold to love and Murray, trailing 1-4 and looking spent, could not tame the rampant Dutchman.
He got back on the board in the sixth game, broke for 3-4 and held to level, now charging the net at every opportunity.
Serving to stay in the match, Murray netted a difficult smash, could do nothing about an outrageous forehand return off a second serve, fought back to 40-30 and held nervously. Griekspoor needed an astonishing forehand on the line to save break point in the 11th game and a 23rd ace to hold for 6-5.
Murray forced a second tie-break and went 1-4 down, crossing at 2-4. A forehand fell back on Griekspoor’s side of the net and he bungled a routine winner for 4-all. A big serve put the Dutchman 5-4 up, but he hit long for 5-all at the end of another long rally. Murray found an ace wide for match point, with the serve switching to Griekspoor, whose concluding backhand billowed the net.