Murray far from championship form

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NEW YORK -- What happens when your wildest dreams come true?

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin spent fewer than three hours walking on the moon, but it required a difficult decade to fully process that watershed moment.

Be (very) careful what you wish for.

J.D. Salinger, a child of this very city, wrote a coming-of-age masterpiece, "The Catcher in the Rye," and the flagrant fame it produced drove him completely out of the public view.

And what of Mo'ne Davis? Will playing point guard at UConn fill the void after recently becoming the most talked-about athlete in American sports?

After winning Wimbledon a year ago, the meager early returns suggest Andy Murray has encountered a similar wall.

On Monday, Murray was flailing around in Louis Armstrong Stadium -- a loose, sometimes loud venue he doesn't particularly like -- looking enormously unsettled in a 6-3, 7-6 (6), 1-6, 7-5 victory over Robin Haase.

The match required 3 hours, 8 minutes -- not the way you want to ease into the fourth and final major of the season.

Clearly, Murray was uncomfortable, berating himself on numerous occasions, clutching at various parts of his cramping body and looking anything like the champion he was here only two years ago. There were times when he seemed to be channeling his slumping, woe-is-me body language circa, say, 2010.

Murray said he had never felt that bad on a tennis court -- after going 90 minutes without any problems.

"It was unexpected, and that made it difficult mentally to deal with," Murray said. "But, yeah, I'm happy to get through. I could have very easily lost that match."

The Scot was the first British man to win the title at the All England Club in 77 years, but he hasn't been to a final since. How do you get up and go to work after achieving that kind of history? Brother Jamie Murray has been to three this year alone -- albeit in doubles -- and won the championship in Munich with partner John Peers.

Murray shut it down in September 2013 after a Davis Cup tie and underwent surgery on his chronically balky back. The general consensus has been that the aftershocks of that procedure are the primary reason the 27-year-old is struggling to regain the spectacular form that brought him an Olympic gold medal and the Grand Slam singles titles at the 2012 US Open and last year at Wimbledon.

"I'm not so sure it's the back," said Ivan Lendl, shaking his head last week in New Haven. "Winning Wimbledon, how do you top that?"

Lendl, the force behind Murray's breakthrough, told the player in March over dinner in Miami that he could no longer give him the coaching time he needed. It was a combination of things, Lendl said -- wanting, among other things, to spend more time with his 16-year-old daughter and 79-year-old mother -- but there was also the factor of trying to match a moment that can never truly be matched.

"That's going to be difficult, honestly," Lendl said.

For both the coach and the player. So Lendl is off the hook, playing a lot of golf (and a lot less senior tennis), studying men's tennis statistics daily for the formula that predicts success and generally loving life. Murray? Not so much.

He was all over the place Monday. For context, consider that Haase, of the Netherlands, is not a dominant player. He's ranked No. 70 among ATP World Tour players; coming in, his record at the US Open was 1-4 -- and he was 0-8 against top-10 players in Grand Slam play. Three years ago in the second round, Murray was down two sets and rallied to win in five.

Murray had more unforced errors (51) than winners (47) and Haase actually finished with an edge in overall points (146-145).

It's been a tough go, relatively speaking, after the spectacle of winning Wimbledon. Murray has lost to all seven of the top 10-ranked players he's faced since, most notably Stan Wawrinka at last year's US Open, Roger Federer at the Australian Open and Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. There's no shame in that, but more troubling are losses to lesser players, like Santiago Giraldo, No. 42 Radek Stepanek and No. 40 Florian Mayer.

Earlier this summer, Murray fell to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Federer in Toronto and Cincinnati before they entered the top 10. That they both went on to win those events was comforting to Murray, at least on some level.

"I have been playing well the last few weeks," Murray said here before the tournament. "This week has been very good preparation. I'm happy. I feel ready to start the tournament."

Murray went on to say that he was feeling better prepared physically than in any major since last year's Wimbledon.

"I got a great training block over in Miami done, so physically I'm where I would want to be. My body is pain-free, which is good," he said.

He didn't mention the mental side.

After the match, Murray was asked if there was a mental component to his post-Wimbledon struggles to reach a final.

"To be honest," Murray said, "I've played pretty good in the Slams this year. I played well at the French and the first week of Wimbledon. So, no, I have still been pumped to train and get myself ready for the biggest events.

"But, yeah, I know they are very, very difficult tournaments to win. You need everything to be going well to win them."

Murray has reached the quarterfinals of the three previous Slams, but he's going to have to pick it up if he wants to get there again. Tsonga awaits in a potential fourth-round matchup.

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