By Jared Callanan, Guest Contributor
There’s a saying about tennis as a spectator sport: five minutes of brilliance is worth enduring two and a half hours of mediocrity.
Okay, maybe that’s not a saying.
After watching matches like the Shenzhen Open final between Tommy Robredo and Andy Murray, it should be.
The match didn’t have flow, or patterns, or rhythm. The match rarely had those long hotly contested rallies that we’d expect out of Robredo and Murray. The match didn’t have more than two or three screaming winners. In fact, the first set was drab – to put it politely – and the third set wasn’t even competitive.
Yet, that second set tiebreak. That’s why we watch tennis. That’s why we love tennis. That’s why some of us obsess over tennis.
You probably already know the exposition. Murray had not made a ATP World Tour final since his triumph at Wimbledon in 2013 – fifteen months ago. His opponent, resurgent Spanish veteran Robredo, was in his second final of the season, but had also not won a tournament in over a year (Umag).
The stage: the historic, prestigious, incredibly hot and humid Shenzhen Open in the Guangdong Province of China.
Okay, maybe the Shenzhen Open is neither prestigious nor historic.
After all, this was the first time the city played host to an ATP tournament. Nevertheless, the tension was palpable. Robredo was seeking a late-career trophy, while Murray sought confidence, momentum, and points to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals.
The first set was a festival of errors. To say that it was dull wouldn’t be a proper description, but it completely lacked flow. Points came quickly and unremarkably and created a lackluster vibe for spectators. Serving at 5-5, the Murray delivery collapsed and allowed Robredo to run away with the last two games of the set.
Both competitors eased into the match by the start of the second set, as the shade moved in and temperatures cooled. There was still little rhythm to be found, but both men were starting to put together a more entertaining brand of tennis, foreshadowing a second set Sudden Death.
From the outset, the tiebreak in this set looked to mirror the conclusion of the last. Murray fell behind early and at 2-6, it seemed the former World No. 2 was resigned to the loss. From nowhere, something clicked with the Brit and (with a little help from a tightening Robredo), Murray saved four championship points with excellent execution to send the Shenzhen crowd into a frenzy. Saving one more championship point at 6-7, Murray rode the wave of momentum and crowd support through a thrilling 11-9 tiebreak to level the match.
Unfortunately, the third set wouldn’t live up to the action-packed, drama-fueled tennis that was the second set tiebreak. Murray cruised through the third set to win the Shenzhen Open Championship 5-7, 7-6(9), 6-1. Murray, clearly emotional following the match, tipped his cap to his opponent.
“It was an incredibly tough match. The conditions are hard and I got lucky – he probably deserved to win.”
And so is the sport we love. It wasn’t a legendary match by any means, but any time you see a competitor stand tall and save match points the way Murray did, it leaves a lasting effect. It puts you in the thrill of the moment. It makes you glad you didn’t shut the tube off thirty minutes earlier. It is moments like these that reaffirm our love for the sport and helps us realize that even an ugly tennis match can be beautiful.