He said he started out too tentative, then overcompensated by taking too many chances. He popped a string during one crucial point and couldn’t figure out how to break Nishioka’s relatively soft serve, which averages less than 100 miles per hour. But then he somehow worked his way into a third-set tiebreaker, chasing down drop shots and even bending a forehand around the side of the net.
He survived the first tiebreaker just barely, and when he did he let out a primal scream, trying to will a higher level of play out of his 6-foot-3-inch frame.
Crowds are hard to come by at the U.S. Open this year, but Murray managed to attract one. As the fourth set moved into the later stages and especially in the tiebreaker, players began appearing in the seats of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1, popped out of his luxury suite, one which he and all seeded players here each were assigned to take in any action during their downtime. Amanda Anisimova, the 19-year-old American who won her first-round match earlier Tuesday, took a seat in the lower bowl.
Murray beat back a match point for Nishioka in the fourth set, and when he prevailed in the fourth-set tiebreaker, his fellow players filled the 22,000-seat stadium with applause, or at least tried their best.
“It’s rare you have lots of players watching your match,” he said. “In some ways that can be a little distracting.”
Murray’s father-in-law was also watching, as was his brother, Jamie, and he noticed some of the other British players had come out. “Although the atmosphere was very flat, at the end as I was starting to turn it around and I could see some faces in different points of the court to see some encouragement. That definitely helps.”
The fifth set brought Murray to the brink again. Nishioka broke Murray to go up 3-2, only to have Murray, who had noticed that Nishioka could sometimes struggle to make a service break stick, break back to tie the set. Somehow, he saved his best tennis for the final games, landing 79 percent of his first serves in the final set, nailing 16 of his 64 winners.