After what feels like an eternity,?ATP tennis is finally back. And with that, every first-round matchup from the relocated Western & Southern Open could be considered must-watch television. In terms of intrigue and storylines, though, perhaps none stands out more than an encounter between Frances Tiafoe, who recently contracted the coronavirus, and Andy Murray, who began his singles comeback last year in Mason, Ohio.
For Tiafoe, the hiatus came at a time when the 21-year-old's form was trending in the wrong direction. Since his lucrative run to the 2019 Australian Open quarterfinals, Tiafoe has suffered 16 first-round losses (including a head-scratching loss to fast-fading Bernard Tomic in Atlanta), and began his 2020 season with a discouraging 2-5 record. While many players would feel the mounting pressure, I’m not sure anything could derail Tiafoe’s love for the game or his zest for life.?
Equipped with one of the world’s most infectious laughs, you will never hear Tiafoe whisper an ill word about anyone, and he certainly respects his elders. On Murray’s most recent Instagram post—a picture of the Brit standing?atop the 2016 Rio Olympics podium with a gold medal around his neck—Tiafoe commented, “Some people are just made different.”
Andy Murray practices ahead of his opening round with a fitting "Perseverance" T-shirt. (Getty Images)
While Tiafoe is referring to Murray’s many unteachable on-court gifts that have propelled him to a sure-fire Hall of Fame career, because of his surgically repaired metal left hip, he is now quite literally built different. Murray showed signs of promise during The Battle of the Brits, and while he wasn’t his former?self, he completed four matches in five days.
Whether in Cincinnati or New York, Murray excels. Currently ranked No. 129, the 33-year-old?owns a 31-12 record and a pair of titles at the Masters 1000 event, and a 45-12 record at Flushing Meadows, the site of his first major title in 2012. Tiafoe will certainly raise his game against one of the game’s great champions, but how will he hold up in his first appearance since contracting COVID-19??In the end, Murray’s off-the-charts tennis IQ and experience should propel him to victory in his first career meeting against the young American.?
The Pick: Andy Murray