NEW YORK (AP) — Andy Murray smiled a few times during his match at Madison Square Garden.
This is a player who rarely cracks a grin after winning Grand Slam titles, but Monday night’s meeting with friend and rival Novak Djokovic was an exhibition, and even Murray was happy to play along.
Djokovic won 6-3, 7-6 (2) as the two mixed the usual exhibition hijinks with some long rallies reminiscent of their epic Grand Slam matchups.
A born showman, Djokovic always has fun with the New York crowd at the U.S. Open. When on a game point Monday he shanked an overhead into the net, the Serb did pushups in penance.
It was the first time playing at the Garden for both.
“I was amazed by the size of it,” Djokovic said. “With the history in the world of sports and entertainment and music, it’s probably the most impressive and most important indoor facility in the world.”
Murray still grimaced more than once after an unforced error as if he were a few miles away at Flushing Meadows. But he also high-fived a fan after hooking in a winner down the line. And the Brit provides plenty of entertainment value simply with his ability to run down nearly every ball.
Chasing a drop shot in the first set, Murray wound up all the way on Djokovic’s side of the court, bumping into a TV camera along the way. Djokovic went over and jokingly massaged Murray’s quad, lest he need a medical timeout.
During one changeover, they pulled their phones out of their bags and met at the net to take a couple of selfies. Both tweeted them during the next break.
“We might never get the chance to play here again,” Murray said. “Wanted to enjoy it. Hope everyone who came along had a good time as well. That was the whole point today.”
And he’s in a good mood after his surgically repaired back held up well following four matches in four days in Acapulco last week.
There were the obligatory exhibition shenanigans: between-the-legs shots, pulling a kid from the crowd to play a point. In a bit of a twist, Djokovic invited reigning Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, who has since retired, from the stands to briefly take his place. Murray welcomed her by launching a serve as hard as he could that had the Frenchwoman ducking. Bartoli then ably exchanged groundstrokes with Murray in high-top canvas sneakers that were more fashion than function.
The BNP Paribas Showdown opened with the Bryan brothers beating the McEnroe brothers 8-3 in doubles. John McEnroe added a little sizzle to the meeting a few months ago when he made some harsh comments about the current state of doubles, suggesting that top players today are the guys who weren’t athletic enough to make it in singles. While Bob and Mike Bryan insisted there were no hard feelings, they respectfully disagree with his opinion, and they played Monday with the seriousness of an ATP Tour match.
There was no aiming any slams toward John’s head. Instead, they picked on Patrick McEnroe’s volleys – he doesn’t play as much these days as his more-successful older brother. The twins needed 44 minutes to win the single pro set.
In John McEnroe’s day, singles stars also competed in doubles, and he won nine Grand Slam doubles titles. Patrick added one more to the family collection.
The Bryans have won a record 15 major doubles titles.
But age thwarted any test of John’s theory that the doubles teams of his era were superior. John is 55, Patrick 47; the twins are 35. So the Bryans are far more athletic right now. On one point, they returned four different overheads as the McEnroes couldn’t put them away. The Bryans celebrated with their signature chest bump.
Mike Bryan said their father doesn’t believe in the concept of playing a match for entertainment.
“He wanted us to stomp them,” he said.