AT LEAST Andy Murray got his wish – if he is to play Novak Djokovic at the US Open this year, it will not be until the final. But that is about the only good news that the Scot could pick out of the draw as it was being made yesterday.
When Murray faced Roger Federer in Cincinnati last week, he was hoping against hope he would win and so secure the No 2 seeding at the Open. Alas, he lost and so his position in the draw came down to luck – and, for once, it appeared to be on his side as his name was placed in the bottom half of the draw sheet with Djokovic, the world No 1 sitting proudly at the top of the top half.
But to get to final, Murray must face Nick Kyrgios in the first round, Kevin Anderson and his thunderous serve in the fourth, Stan Wawrinka, the French Open champion, in the quarter-finals, Federer in the semis and then that man Djokovic in the final. As draws go, he could not have asked for worse.
The only positive thought that Murray can focus on is that the draw at a Grand Slam tournament seldom goes according to plan and that which on paper looks simple can turn into a nightmare thanks to an upset and that which appears unwinnable can fall apart in the space of an afternoon.
With that in mind, Federer’s seemingly clear route to the quarters and an appointment with either Richard Gasquet or Tomas Berdych may take a turn for the worse – the huge serves of either Ivo Karlovic or John Isner in the fourth round may derail him – and that would do Murray’s cause a world of good.
The world No 2 and No 3 have met 25 times with Federer winning 14 times. But at the Grand Slam events, Murray has won just once in six meetings. The last clash was at Wimbledon where the Swiss was untouchable in the semi-finals. Dodging Federer would be a relief.
Even so, simply getting to the semi-finals will take some doing. Wawrinka has not had much of a summer on the North American hard courts (two tournaments played, one quarter-final reached) but since he beat Djokovic to win the French Open at the start of June, he knows that he has the ability to beat anyone on any surface. And the last time he faced Murray was here in New York two years ago when he won in straight sets.
Such speculation, though, is of no consequence. All that matters to Murray at the moment is Kyrgios in the first round – and after three consecutive wins without dropping a set to the Australian, the Scot knows he must be wary of his rival’s power and explosive talent but he also knows how to suppress such weapons, too.
But if Murray thinks he has got a lot on his plate, he should talk to Serena Williams. After surviving the pressure cooker of Wimbledon where she was trying to complete her second “Serena Slam” and hold all four Grand Slam titles at once, she is now trying to win the Grand Slam proper and win her fourth major trophy of the calendar year. No one has managed such a feat since Steffi Graf in 1988 and should Williams achieve it, she would match Graf’s tally of 22 Grand Slam titles and sit just two titles behind Margaret Court’s record of 24. The pressure, then, is building by the hour.
“Wimbledon gave me unbelievable practice for this,” Williams said, “because at Wimbledon I was going for the second Serena Slam and that is rare. So that really gave me the best practice and preparation in terms of going for the Grand Slam.
“There’s always another record or another person to catch up with or to pass. I never really thought that I would be in this position where we would be talking about records or talking about passing Steffi Graf or mentioning Margaret Court.
“I just grew up trying to be the best I could and do the best that I could and I worked really hard for everything so to be mentioned in that conversation is great but, like I say, I feel like I don’t put that pressure on myself to do anything here because I’m obviously going to be excited to compete next year and just keep going and have fun.”
At Wimbledon, she made a joke of never mentioning the “S-word” (the Serena Slam) but all who tried to press her on the subject soon discovered she meant it. Here, though, she simply looks edgy and nervous. Drawn in the same quarter as most of the American hopefuls including her sister, Venus, Serena’s greatest foe in the coming two weeks may well be herself and her nerves.
ANDY MURRAY’S POTENTIAL ROUTE TO THE US OPEN FINAL:
Up first is the unpredictable Aussie Nick Kyrgios whom Murray defeated at both the Australian Open and French Open earlier this year
Victory over the colourful world No 37 would see Murray play either Adrian Mannarino or a qualifier in round two
Fellow Briton James Ward could be next in round three
Kevin Anderson and his thunderous serve await
French Open champion Stan Wawrinka is a likely opponent in the last eight
Roger Federer is seeded to meet Murray in the last four
World No 1 Novak Djokovic is odds on to reach the final