Andy Murray's opening match Tuesday night in the U.S. Open figured to be tricky. He was facing the unseeded Nick Kyrgios, a 20-year-old Australian with a world of athletic talent wrapped in a volcano of emotions. Would Kyrgios erupt as an elite player, or melt down?
Neither, actually, but Kyrgios lost to the proven elite player. Murray, the Open's No. 3 seed and its 2012 champ, won, 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
When the draw was made, this was the Open's most intriguing first-rounder on the men's side. The first set was the whole Kyrgios package: rocket serves and whip forehands countered by poor half-volleys, a reluctance to come to the net, constant muttering to himself and chirping toward his box. He got an early break, then lost the set and on the changeover lay back in his chair, eyes closed and appearing to prefer taking a nap.
Murray wasn't playing all that well, but Kyrgios couldn't take advantage. Kyrgios' erratic play continued when he lost the second set. In the seventh game, holding break points, he attempted to play a half-volley between the legs instead of stepping up and playing what likely would have been a sure volley winner.
After winning a break in the second game of the third set, Kyrgios lost his serve on four straight points. But something funny happened, and it usually does with Kyrgios. He settled down, stayed in the points and saw Murray's game deteriorate. So Kyrgios won that set, the first one he has taken off of Murray in four meetings. But after taking a long break between sets, he was broken at the start of the fourth set and never was a factor.
"It was a very tricky match and I was able to keep my focus,'' Murray said. "I managed to get the momentum back straight away.''
Kyrgios is playing under a suspended sentence from the men's governing body, the ATP. It has fined him $25,000 and ordered a 28-day suspension for his lewd remarks about Stan Wawrinka's girlfriend while playing Wawrinka in Montreal on Aug. 12. He can avoid the penalties if he exhibits professional behavior for the next six months.
At Wimbledon, Kyrgios argued with umpires, smashed rackets and was accused of tanking a game in a fourth-round match that he lost. He was fined $10,000.
While not condoning Kyrgios' behavior, Murray on Saturday cited Kyrgios' age and the nature of sports' bright spotlight.
"He's a young guy and he's made mistakes, and everyone here when they were 19-20 would have done some bad things and made mistakes,'' Murray said. "It's unfortunate that it happens in front of millions of people. I just think it's wrong a lot of the things he's done, but I also think he's still a young guy . . . He'll learn. I don't think he's a bad person at all.''