Andy Murray could not have been more downbeat if he had tried. He was through to the third round of the US Open but, coughing and spluttering, he was sick and he was exhausted.
It had taken him nearly three and a half hours to beat Adrian Mannarino on a suffocatingly hot afternoon in Flushing Meadows and for the first 90 minutes, he looked to be on his way out of the tournament.
Struggling with a cold, he was doubled up and leaning on his racket, wheezing for breath after some rallies but summoning every ounce of energy and willpower he had left, he managed to survive 5-7, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1. Still, he had nothing left when he walked off court.
“I think quite a few of the players have had a head cold,” he said. “My brother was quite sick yesterday, as well. I think there’s a few of the players have had it.
“There’s no real cure. Hopefully it takes three or four days before it’s out the system. The only thing I’ve taken is Vitamin C – there’s not much you can take. But that’s one of the things about being an athlete – it’s survival of the fittest.”
With luck and a decent night of sleep, Murray ought to be feeling a bit better when he faces Thomaz Bellucci today, but the concern is how much fuel there is left in the tank.
He was tired when he got to New York and was carefully managing his resources after a hectic summer but, now, with potentially five matches to play in the next nine days, he will have to be even more careful and diligent in his recovery work. “I’m proud of the way I fought but, in these conditions, obviously it can take its toll later on in the tournament,” he said.
“But, unfortunately, you don’t always have the luxury of winning matches in straight sets. Sometimes you have to fight through. Maybe if you’re not playing your best, just find a way to get through.
“When you’re not playing your best, you find a way to come through matches like that. It can give you confidence. You feel a little bit like you’re fortunate to still be in the event and you’re a bit more maybe relaxed going into the next matches.
“I’ve come through many tough matches in my career, and I think that’s why when you are behind like that in the scoreline, when you’ve done it in the past, you have the belief that you can come through and do it again. That definitely helped me here.”
Bellucci, like Mannarino, is left-handed and that is usually an advantage against most players. But not against Murray. The Scot has an astonishing 69-18 win-loss record against left-handers, 15 of the losses being to Rafael Nadal. The reason for his success is simple – Murray grew up playing against his brother, Jamie. And Jamie is left-handed.
“I just think for me it’s almost more natural to play against a left-hander because that was what I learnt to play against when I was a kid,” he said. “My first five, six years of tennis were playing against a left-hander. We played so much from when we were like five until 13. That was when we stopped.”
The last left-hander not called Nadal to beat Murray was Bellucci but that was four years ago, on clay and at altitude in Madrid. That day, the Brazilian went for broke on every shot and fired winners at will. Not even he thinks today’s match will follow that pattern.
“He will be favourite to play against me, of course,” Bellucci, the world No 30, said. “He’s playing really well, the last two tournaments he had really good results. I played once against him but it was different conditions – it was a clay court, altitude so this time’s going to be totally different. He’s going to play well but I have to find the tactics to try to play in the way that he’s not going to feel very comfortable. I try to be aggressive but he has so many weapons: he has good physical [strength], good backhand, forehand, so he’s favourite anyway to play against me.”
Bellucci, clearly, has a great deal of respect for Murray’s position and his results but years ago, when they were both just starting out, it was a very different story. In the juniors, Murray was marked out as a potential future champion but, when Bellucci saw him play in South America, he could not see what all the fuss was about.
“I saw him play the first time when I was very young in the juniors, I think it was in Colombia or Peru,” Bellucci said. “I was like 14, he was 15 and he was playing a Brazilian player called Leonardo Kirche and he lost. I see this guy playing, then I thought ‘he has a good ranking but he lost against a Brazilian guy so he’s not so good’. That match, he played so bad. Then after two years, he was winning every tournament so he started to play very well and became an unbelievable player.”
Unbelievable he may be but sick he most definitely is so Murray is changing his routine before today’s match. Like all players, he is a creature of habit but he knows he needs to get as much rest as he can if he is to play through his illness and keep enough energy in reserve for the latter stages of the tournament.
As Murray explained: “I’m going to come in and try to practice a bit earlier so that I can get back and have a bit more time to maybe have a sleep in the afternoon tomorrow, spend as much time recovering as I can.”
Fortunately, the weather forecast is predicting cooler temperatures for the next couple of days, which will help Murray’s cause but it may be a few days yet before his nose clears up and his mood cheers up.