The temperature is rising, the humidity is building and the Big Apple is preparing itself for another steamy two weeks at the US Open. The conditions in Flushing Meadows can be brutal and the scheduling is exhausting but Andy Murray – looking lean, tanned and fitter than ever – is ready for anything.
The world No 3 has played and won more matches than ever before as he approaches the last grand slam event of the season but his every moment in every day has been planned for this. Another push for a third grand slam title immediately followed by a Davis Cup semi-final against Australia (and, he hopes, a Davis Cup final at the end of the year) is driving him on.
When he lost to Roger Federer in Cincinnati ten days ago, he looked weary but he had cause to be – he had won the title in Montreal the week before and beaten Novak Djokovic to do so. The tiredness in his head and his legs was to be expected and recovery from that had already been factored into his schedule. As he looks towards his opening match against Nick Kyrgios tomorrow, he has never felt better prepared for a US Open. “It’s the most that I’ve played coming into a US Open probably in my life,” he said. “But I’ve also come in having hardly played at all and not felt great at the beginning of the tournament. I’ve felt quite nervous going into the tournament, and a bit agitated in the few days beforehand because I knew that I hadn’t played loads and didn’t feel great in my game whereas now, I feel very good in my game.
“I’ve played enough, but then I’ve no idea how I’ll feel in ten days’ time or if I’m in the middle of a fifth set with Nick in a couple of days. I don’t know. But I planned and prepared for this to be the case with the US Open and the Davis Cup being my priorities over the next couple of months. I’ve planned accordingly with the physical team as to what I’d be doing off the court and making sure I got enough rest in and everything else. I’ve had to change some things but I feel good just now.”
That win over Djokovic in Canada did wonders for his sense of well- being. After eight consecutive losses to the world No 1, including the Australian Open in January and the French Open semi-final a couple of months ago, a three-set, three-hour final win in stifling humidity was the final proof Murray needed that he was back to his best. Coming on the back of an opening round loss in Washington the week before, it was just the fillip he needed.
“It was a big win for me for a bunch of reasons,” Murray said. “After Washington, to come back and win the tournament there was big and also against Novak, coming back and being very strong in the third set. A couple of times this year, the final sets of matches have got away from me. That could have happened again in Montreal but I stayed strong and got a big win there. It’s important for me and important for me to get that confidence ahead of the US Open.”
The last few weeks have also given Murray the chance to form a closer bond with Jonas Bjorkman, his main coach in the absence of Amelie Mauresmo, who is at home on maternity leave. The Swede has been a part of the team since the spring but it always takes time for everyone to get to know each other and their work habits. And Murray has discovered that if he thought he could be a bit fractious on court, his temper is as nothing compared to Bjorkman’s.
“He’s a pretty competitive guy,” Murray said. “He’s very competitive in practice, in any games. I don’t know if he was as competitive as me. He’s got a pretty bad temper as well. I’d say my temper is not as bad in practice as it is in matches. But he’s got a worse temper than me on the tennis court away from camera, I’d say. He’s a very positive guy. He came into the team with no ego at all. He wanted to learn and understand how we worked. He has asked a lot of questions so he could get to understand me better. I feel the last few weeks have been really, really positive because it takes time to develop a working relationship.
“It takes for me to open up and tell someone how I am feeling. He’s just been very positive, he’s a hard worker. When he played, his game style was very based on net play, returning – so he’s able to help me with a lot of things.”
Presumably Mauresmo will be able to help with some advice on Murray’s impending fatherhood. She gave birth to her son on the day the Scot beat Djokovic, and while she texts Murray from time to time, tennis is not her priority at the moment. As for the soon-to-be dad, the only plans he has made is to stay at home this Christmas and train in London in order to spend more time with his wife, and to not be on the road in February when the baby is due.
“I don’t know how I will deal with it and what I’m going to do and the change to my schedule,” he said. “I have no idea whether the child will travel or not. I have not spoken or discussed any of that at all with anyone. We haven’t even spoken about it because the priority is the child, not my tennis and how it’s going to affect that.”
All Murray does know is that tomorrow he faces Kyrgios, a man he has beaten three times out of three, and he could not be in better shape to win again.