Andy Murray continues comeback against teenage novice while rest of Big Four prepare to do battle in New York

Simon Briggs
Andy Murray competes in the Rafa Nadal Challenger event on Monday - Getty Images North America

When Andy Murray decided to play in this week’s Challenger event in Mallorca, he was looking for a gentler match that would ease him back into the swing of singles tennis after two tough defeats on the American hard-court circuit.

But while Murray was expecting to drop down a level, he cannot have imagined that he would be drawn against an untried 17-year-old whose career prizemoney stands at $150. This could turn out to be the biggest mismatch since he scored a 6-0, 6-0 “double-bagel” victory over Luxembourg’s Laurent Bram, a club coach, in the Davis Cup eight years ago.

Murray’s ranking of No. 329 places him lower than any of the 41 men who earned direct entry to the Rafa Nadal Open. There is even a top-100 player in there, in Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk. But the tournament did not receive enough applications to run the usual qualification tournament for the last seven places. As a result, they were almost reduced to signing up anyone they could find.

Hence the appearance of Murray’s opponent Imran Sibille – a trainee at the Rafa Nadal Academy, which is hosting the event – as an alternate. Sibille does not have an ATP ranking and stands at equal-2792nd on the International Tennis Federation’s system. Apart from Bram – who had no ranking at all – he is the weakest player statistically that Murray has faced since he was 18 years old.

Assuming that Murray wins on Monday – which you would hope he will – he is due to face third seed Norbert Gombos in the second round. Gombos, a 29-year-old Slovakian, is considerably more experienced, having reached a career high of No. 80 in the world two years ago. He now stands at No. 116.

While Murray builds up his match fitness again after the implantation of his metal hip in January, the rest of the so-called “Big Four” – as they used to be known – are seeded Nos. 1, 2 and 3 at the US Open. Novak Djokovic opens his campaign on Monday against world No. 76 Roberto Carballes Baena, while Roger Federer has been drawn against Indian qualifier Sumit Nagal in the night match.

It seems likely that a number of New Yorkers may misread this match on the draw-sheet, and turn up to Arthur Ashe Stadium in expectation of seeing the first Federer-Nadal match ever played at the US Open.