Andy Murray looked slightly affronted. The thought that the feminine charms and French sophistication of Amélie Mauresmo had been a civilising influence on Team Murray, the bunch of boys who have roamed the world for years in search of trophies and success, was simply not right.
“We have more to our conversations than Fantasy Football, would you believe,” Murray said, with a slight edge in his voice.
That aside, Murray is the first to admit that Mauresmo’s contribution to this summer’s work has been nothing but good. Her arrival in June made the headlines but, once the Wimbledon circus had been packed away for another year, she and the rest of the gang have been hard at work behind closed doors to put Murray’s game in order and get him ready for one last charge towards a Grand Slam title in 2014.
“At the beginning it was definitely different, not necessarily because she is a woman,” Murray admitted. “When I started working with Ivan [Lendl] it was the same: he is a different person, a different personality, different character for everyone to get to know and feel comfortable around so we [the team] can be open and be themselves.
“After we spent time together in Miami away from all the cameras and stuff, after a week everyone was just being themselves. She fitted into the team very well. It hasn’t changed anyone’s personality or how we behave, but it has changed things in terms of how we communicate: it is much easier to communicate with her and that is a positive.”
Mauresmo will be pressing home her thoughts in the coming days. Together, she and Murray have made it through a tricky first week at the US Open – and the Scot’s four-set rollercoaster ride against Andrey Kuznetsov on Saturday was trickier than anyone anticipated – and now they are staring at the business end of the competition.
Today, Murray takes on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the world No 10 and the bloke who beat him just a few weeks ago at the Masters 1000 event in Canada. Murray was a break up in the third set of that match and yet still could not close out the win. That has been the way of things this year since he came back from back surgery and it makes his workload all the greater now that he is into the second week of a major championship. His followers fret about the problem but Murray is relying on experience and hard work to get him through.
“It’s better almost not to think about it too much,” he said, “because I’ve obviously played 500 or 600 matches in my career and you’re going to have moments when certain things are hard. There are periods where some players struggle to serve out matches, sometimes it can be struggling to come back from tough situations, sometimes it can be struggling to stay ahead or sort of having ups and downs in matches – you’re going to go through that in an 800, 900-match career.
“You’ve just got to keep doing the right things, keep going for your shots, keep making good decisions – that’s all you can do, really.
“Over the course of a two or three-hour match, there are going to be ups and downs. You just need to hit the reset buttons as quickly as possible so it doesn’t last for two or three games.”
Murray has not reached a tournament final since he won Wimbledon last summer and he has not beaten a top-ten player in that time, either. Even against the lower-ranked players, there are moments when he gets himself into a winning position and then loosens his grip on the match to give the opponent a glimmer of hope. Against Tsonga, he cannot afford to be so generous but he will not berate himself if the match turns into a dogfight: he has not come to New York to play pretty tennis; he has come here to win.
“I just try to win the match, that’s basically the goal before every match,” he said. “It’s not really about how you play because sometimes you can play really good tennis and lose – I’m more interested in trying to win the match against Jo, playing the right tactics to give myself the best chance of doing that and see what happens.
“I’ve beaten many top-ten players over the course of my career in these events and I’m sure it will happen again and happen soon and I’m sure that’s the case on Monday. Once you get into the second week, it’s four matches away from winning a slam – obviously they are going to get tougher with each round but, if you feel good physically, anything can happen so you just need to be ready for each match now and I’ll hopefully play some good tennis.”
Tsonga has had a good summer, winning the title in Canada – he had to beat Novak Djokovic, Murray, Grigor Dimitrov and Roger Federer to do so – and he has only dropped one set on his way to today’s fourth round. But Murray does have a 9-2 winning record against the Frenchman so he knows exactly what he has to do to win.
This is where Mauresmo comes into her own as she tries to instil the confidence and belief in her charge that he can close out the win as he has done in past encounters. Team Murray may have more conversational strings to their bow than Fantasy Football but the talk will be purely business this week.