Andy Murray and brother Jamie battled past French pair Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin at the Citi Open in Washington.
The former world number one has so far been restricted to doubles action since returning to the game following his hip resurfacing operation in January, and played in the mixed event alongside Serena Williams at Wimbledon.
Murray, who has suggested his singles return may be closer than he originally thought, produced a composed display alongside his brother as they progressed to the quarter-finals with a gutsy 6-4 6-7 (7) 10-5 win in a tie-break decider.
A return to the hard courts in August appears in Murray’s sights, but that could yet be delayed until after the US Open.
The 32-year-old’s last grand slam appearance was at the Australian Open in Melbourne, where he lost to Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round.
Pairing with his brother was not a new partnership, the Murrays having played together at the Rio Olympics and also formed a prolific partnership during Great Britain’s 2015 Davis Cup victory.
Jamie Murray, meanwhile, was looking to defending his ATP Tour title won in Washington last year with Bruno Soares.
The opening set went with serve before the Murray’s pressure told in game 10 to gain a crucial break.
The match remained a tight affair as the French pair held to force a tie-break.
The Murrays saw two match point chances missed having been 6-4 up, the second with a wide return from the former world number one.
Some more fine returns from the British duo saw another opportunity to break for the match, but again the Frenchmen responded to level at 7-7 before closing out to force a 10-point tie-break decider.
Mahut and Roger-Vasselin then appeared to be in control after moving 5-3 ahead, only for the Murray brothers to respond magnificently and lead 8-5.
Jamie Murray then served for the match, with Andy’s crosscourt forehand setting up another opportunity to take a hard-earned victory, which was secured when the return went into the net.
Three-time grand slam winner Andy Murray said his singles return may be closer than he originally thought.
The 32-year-old has so far been restricted to doubles action since returning to the game following his hip resurfacing operation in January, winning his first tournament back at Queen’s in June before suffering early exits at Eastbourne and Wimbledon.
He will link up with brother Jamie at next week’s Citi Open in Washington.
Speaking ahead of the tournament of his return to singles action, he told reporters: “I’m closer than maybe what I thought I was.”
Murray added that a return to the hard courts in August was in his sights, and if not, then he would wait until after the US Open.
He said: “Best-case scenario probably would be Cincinnati. And then if I wasn’t able to play in Cincinnati, there’s a good chance I would probably wait until after New York, because I wouldn’t want my first tournament, either, to be playing best-of-five.”
Murray’s last grand slam appearance was on the hard courts of Melbourne, where he was dispatched in the first round by quarter-finalist Roberto Bautista Agut in four sets.
The Murray brothers last played together at the Rio Olympics, but were a prolific partnership during Great Britain’s 2015 Davis Cup victory, while they have won two ATP Tour titles together, in Tokyo in 2011 and Valencia the year before.
Jamie is the defending champion at Washington, having won the tournament last year with Bruno Soares.
Men’s tennis has a problem, and it is one that it is sleepwalking straight into.
For years, the game’s big asset is now becoming it’s greatest concern – and it’s one that shows no real sign of being solved.
What happens when Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic decide to hang up their rackets?
Now, this is by no means an early obituary on the three but, with all three men now comfortably in their 30s, conversations are bound to take place about when these three legends of the game will call it a day – particularly the 37-year-old Federer.
In a perfect world, there would be a stream of young talent ready to step into the void and take their rightful places as heirs to the throne, but this situation is very different.
In sport we will often have a standout superstar, someone who stands above their peers, a modern-day great who takes their place in the pantheon of their respective game.
In men’s tennis, we are arguably in an era where the three best players of all-time are gracing us with their presence at once. Obviously this is up for some debate – but go by Grand Slam wins, not an ideal measure but a yardstick nonetheless, and the names Federer, Nadal and Djokovic top the list.
The last 61 Grand Slam semi-finals have featured either Federer, Nadal or Djokovic. Mind blowing 🤯 pic.twitter.com/rUgQrLOgcc— BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) July 12, 2019
Their dominance is unrivaled, unknown in most sports, but now we must tentatively face the prospect of losing one, if not all of them, in the not too distant future.
To understand the way in which they have ruled over tennis in the last twelve years, you only have to look at Grand Slam finals. For the sake of this conversation, we are going to look at the three as a collective.
Since the moment Djokovic joined the other two as a Grand Slam finalist there have been only two occasions when his name or that of Federer or Nadal has not been in the final. Since the US Open showpiece of 2007, that is 48 finals with the inclusion of this year’s Wimbledon.
Of the three, Djokovic leads the way with 25 final appearances, Nadal, 21 and Federer 18 – the rest have 32 between them – with just eight of those ending up being wins.
During this time there have been plenty touted to break the monopoly – the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Marin Cilic and Gael Monfils all appeared to have the tools at a young age but their challenge never materialised.
Andy Murray, with 11 finals and three Grand Slams under his belt along with a stint at world number one, was the only player to consistently threaten the big three – albeit his rise was cut short by injury.
The concern for the rest of the tour is even into their 30s, the dominance continues – they have now won the last 11 slams between them.
Names such as Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Denis Shapovalov and Karen Khachanov are entrusted with the future of the men’s game, but to this point have been unable to truly make their mark.
1. Novak Djokovic's record in 2019: 33-6 (85%)— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) July 10, 2019
2. Rafael Nadal's record in 2019: 37-5 (88%)
3. Roger Federer's record in 2019: 37-4 (90%)
4. Dominic Thiem's record in 2019: 23-10 (70%)
5. Alexander Zverev's record in 2019: 25-14 (64%)
They are playing different sports.
Thiem has a pair of slam final defeats to Nadal at Roland Garros, but other than that hasn’t been past a quarter final – he’s 25.
Zverev and Khachanov have three quarter-final appearances between them, and at 22 and 23 respectively. A caveat for the German is his end of season ATP Tour finals win, but that won’t appear on an epitaph. Tsitsipas and Shapovalov are, in fairness, only 20 – with the Greek having already reached a semi, while the Russian is still to make a quarter.
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic were all slam champions by the age of 21.
This lack of depth on the men’s side is in stark contrast to the women’s game. With Simona Halep’s win on Saturday, there are now 10 active players on the circuit who have won multiple Grand Slams. On the men’s side there are five; Murray, Stan Wawrinka – you know the other three.
For the fair-weather tennis fan this results in a lack of household names, and a potential apathy to the game outside the big three which has to be the biggest worry.
For now though, we must cherish every stroke. One day these incredible careers will come to an end, we can only hope for the sake of the game the torch is passed in time.