The Olympic gold medal may be tucked away in a dark corner in his kit bag – Andy Murray is not one for ostentatious displays of success – but there is no getting away from the fact that Murray is a champion and he is in the form of his life.
It has been a long and hard summer for the Scot, beginning with his best ever clay court season, continuing through his unstoppable run on the grass at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon and then on to Rio and the Olympics.
From the final there, he jumped on a late-night flight to Cincinnati and ploughed his way through the draw to the final where Marin Cilic proved to be one obstacle too many and he lost his first match since the French Open final.
Now, with barely time to collect his thoughts and do his laundry, he opens his account at the US Open against Lukas Rosol on Tuesday. He is tired but his confidence levels could not be any higher.
“I arrived Sunday night from Cincinnati and then took a couple of days off, Monday, Tuesday,” Murray said looking remarkably well and relaxed. “Then it’s just been pretty light, light practice. I haven’t done anything away from the court, training, nothing like that. Just trying to be as fresh as I can at the start of the tournament.
“This week is very important to rest, take time to let your body recover but, yeah, it was a good few weeks in Rio and Cincinnati.”
In New York, he was reunited with his wife and six-month old daughter and the joys of family life have helped him to unwind and regroup after the stresses and strains of the last few weeks.
Where once he might dwell on losses or overthink the challenges ahead, now young Sophia is the centre of his universe and he has a fresh perspective on life.
And after three weeks apart, he cannot believe how much she has grown and developed.
“Tennis isn’t the most important thing in my life anymore,” he said. “Probably when I was younger and didn’t have a family, then it was the most important thing. You know, I think having that different perspective helps a lot. Maybe not putting so much pressure on myself and before a match I’m not stressing as much as I used to.
“A lot of changes in three weeks. There’s not like one thing she’s doing differently but in 21 days she is just bigger and more mature. When she’s eating she’s eating better. She’s not dropping it everywhere. Her co-ordination is a bit better. You don’t notice it when you see a child every day, you don’t see the changes, but when you miss 21 days, you see it; it’s a big change.”
At six months, Sophia is far too young to see the changes in her dad but Murray is maturing and developing at much the same rate as his daughter. Even a couple of years ago, Murray planned his year around the four grand slam tournaments – they were all that mattered. Win those and you are a part of history.
But in the past months, the world No.2 has refocused his sights and, as he homes in on Novak Djokovic’s No.1 ranking (if he wins the title in two weeks’ time, he will overtake the Serb in ranking points won since January) but even that is not the ultimate goal. He wants to be the best he can be week in, week out – he wants to do what Djokovic has done over the past couple of years and do it better.
“Obviously trying to get to No.1 is a goal of all of the guys at the top, I would love to get to No.1 but it’s more of a long-term thing,” he said. “For me, I don’t look at that on a week-to-week basis, it’s something that you have to take a longer term view of – and if you look at the year as a whole and even beyond that if you want to reach that, for me, March-April time is a more realistic chance of that than doing it this year, I think.
“But I need to continue what I’m doing, the consistency I’ve had the last few months.
“A lot of times that would have been enough to get to No.1 but not now, because of how great Novak’s been, so I need to try to maintain this sort of consistency every single week and this tournament’s no different. So it’s more of a longer-term goal than something I’m focusing on this week really.”
“I’m 29. I would imagine if I’m lucky I’d be playing at this level for three, four more years, max, I would think.
“I mean, it’s not easy to do that. I hope I’m still playing like this when I’m 38 years old but it’s pretty unlikely. I’m actually using that as a positive that you have to make the most of every opportunity. It’s a slightly different mentality to maybe when you’re younger and like you feel like you have a bit more time on your side.
“I want to make the most of every tournament I play in and try and win and achieve as much as I can the next few years.”
He has made a pretty good start to achieving that goal already and if he reaches the final in New York, he will become only the fourth man in the Open era to have played in all four grand slam finals in the same season.
Djokovic did it last year, Roger Federer has done it three times in 2006, 2007 and 2009 and Rod Laver did it back in 1969. Now Murray has a chance to join them.
“That would be big for sure; it’s not something that happens regularly in the course of history,” he said. “But it’s obviously not an easy thing to do nowadays with three different surfaces and the conditions here and in Australia are quite different in terms of how the court plays. It’s a big challenge, obviously. I do feel like I am in the position to have a good run here. But I am not thinking about that right now, I’ve got a tough first match and I’ll be ready for that.”
Roll on Tuesday and watch out Lukas Rosol.