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Murray battles through cramps for first-round victory

AP, Kyodo

Spinning in 115-kph second serves, grabbing at his hamstring during points, Andy Murray gritted his way through head-to-toe cramps to win at the U.S. Open.

Murray outlasted Robin Haase 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), 1-6, 7-5 in the first round Monday during an afternoon that was hot but not particularly humid. He was mystified that the cramps came on so early — at the start of the third set after only about an hour and a half on court.

“When it starts to kind of go everywhere, you don’t know exactly where it’s going to creep up next,” he said. “When you stretch one muscle, something else then cramps, too.”

It started in the back of his left shoulder, and then quickly spread to his forearm. The right-handed Murray couldn’t toss the ball high enough to get any pace on his serves.

Between points, he would twist his body to awkwardly stretch his left side. After hitting a winner, he would reach for his quad.

Murray was twice down a break in the fourth set, but the 70th-ranked Haase unraveled with a string of unforced errors. He wasted three break points in the final game, when a missed call also cost him.

The eighth-seeded Murray had felt confident in his conditioning after productive training sessions in Miami, where he weathered far more heat and humidity than this. He wondered if something was amiss in his nutrition.

“Cramping in my left forearm?” a bewildered Murray said. “I mean, I didn’t use my left forearm a whole lot today.”

Haase, also bothered by some cramping, said he didn’t eat and drink enough beforehand because of an earlier-than-expected start — the first match on Louis Armstrong Stadium lasted just 47 minutes. But Murray said dehydration didn’t seem to be his problem.

Serving for the fourth set at 5-3, Haase double-faulted on break point to allow Murray to get back on serve. Murray then went up 6-5 when he took Haase’s second serve high and whacked a forehand winner.

With Murray trying to serve out the match, Haase smacked a deep return on his second break point that might have set him up to win the game. But the ball was called out, and after it was overturned on review, they had to replay the point. This time, Haase hit a volley into the net.

Murray is notorious for suddenly clutching at an ailment after a poorly played point. On this day, though, the misery was clearly real. The two-time major champion went after winners to shorten points, tried to stay upright to keep the strain off his legs. It was just enough to eke out the victory.

“I don’t think if it would have gone to five sets I would’ve been the favorite,” Murray said.

Three years ago, he and Haase did go five in New York, with Murray rallying from a two-set deficit to win in the second round.

After Monday’s loss, Haase planned to complain to the ATP that he was denied treatment during the match for a sore foot. But the Dutchman insisted he wasn’t distracted by Murray’s shows of discomfort.

“I was more busy with myself, and I was struggling myself,” Haase said. “I tried to play my game. It didn’t bother me what he did.”

No such struggles for top-seeded Novak Djokovic, who breezed past U.S. Open novice Diego Schwartzman 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Djokovic wrapped up the final match on opening day at the year’s last Grand Slam event as the hour grew late, with fans calling out to him from the far-away seats at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Fifth-seeded Maria Sharapova, who missed last year’s tournament because of an injured right shoulder, made a successful return by winning the final 10 games to beat Maria Kirilenko 6-4, 6-0 in a matchup of 27-year-old Russians and longtime friends.

Kurumi Nara defeated Aleksandra Wozniak of Canada 6-2, 6-1 on Monday to advance to the second round of the U.S. Open, while compatriot Kimiko Date-Krumm crashed out with a first-round loss to Venus Williams 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

The 22-year-old Nara, who captured her first WTA title in February at the Rio Open, converted six of eight break chances against the Canadian to wrap up her straight-sets victory in just under an hour.

Nara, playing with her first career seeding at a Grand Slam event after earning the 31st seed in the women’s draw, takes on Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in the second round.

“Being a seed here I have high expectations of myself but I tried to play without thinking about that,” said Nara. “I am happy that I won but now all my attention is on the next match.”