BRITAIN and America are two nations divided by considerably more than a common language – for a start, there is the American attitude to tennis to contend with.
When Andy Murray returns to Wimbledon to defend his title next summer, he will walk out on to the pristine Centre Court at 1pm precisely on the first Monday and open proceedings at the 2014 championships. When he finally gets pushed out on to court in Flushing Meadows to start the defence of his US Open crown this week, it will be sometime on Wednesday, weather and TV schedules permitting. By that time, his main rivals – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – will all have played their first-round matches and will be having a day off.
In New York, it does matter who you are or what you have achieved – life is governed by television moguls and the marketing gurus.
Murray, though, knows the score in the Big Apple as this will be his ninth appearance at the Open. And apart from last year, when the schedulers relented and allowed him to play on the opening day, he usually finds himself playing catch-up with everyone else in the draw.
In his place as Britain’s flag bearer today stands Dan Evans, the domestic No 3 and the world No 179. He fought his way through the qualifying competition, coming from a set down on Friday to beat Adrian Menendez-Maceiras 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 in the final round, to earn the right to play Kei Nishikori in the main draw. It is the first time Evans has qualified for a grand slam tournament and the first time he has played in the main draw of a major outside Wimbledon where he has had his share of wild cards in the past.
He has also never played the world No 12 from Japan before and if he were to win, Nishikori’s would be a valuable scalp to claim. While Murray is not staking his house on the outcome, he believes that the 23-year-old Brummie has a chance to do well.
“It’s a very tough match, obviously, but he’s not going to get hit off the court,” Murray said. “It’s not like playing John Isner, for example, where he won’t have a say in the match. He will get into a lot of service games. They both move very well. They’re similar heights and build. They’re both quick. There will be some good rallies but, yes, it’s a tough match for him.
“I’m sure he’ll learn a lot, regardless of the result. But he will be confident in himself. He’s won a lot of matches lately, and he’s won three matches on this surface here. People think sometimes playing a qualifier is a good draw, but it isn’t always the case because they are used to the conditions and it will be interesting.
“It’s great that Dan has managed to qualify. It’s a big moment for him, qualifying for your first grand slam. I remember how that felt. It was a big achievement, and hope he can kick on from here.”
Murray first earned his place at a grand slam in 2005 when he was just 18 and had only been a professional for four months. Evans is 23 and has been traipsing around the lower reaches of the professional game for years. But even if the Scot has been critical of some of the British players in the past, chiding them for their lack of application and effort, he has seen a decided improvement in Evans of late, not least in the fact that he reached the final of two Challenger events on his way to New York.
“I have watched some of his matches on the Internet or watched some of his matches in the Challengers last few weeks, and he seems to be playing better tennis,” Murray said. “It’s quite clear: he’s consistently playing at a high level whereas before he was probably doing it for a few weeks a year. He’s strung it together now for a couple of months. If he can maintain that form for eight, nine months of the year, then he will get himself up and around the top 100 for sure.”
Evans will need to find that sort of form if he is to challenge Nishikori but Laura Robson knows that if she is fully fit, she ought to be able to deal with whatever Lourdes Dominguez Lino has to throw at her this morning. However, Britain’s top-ranked female player has only played twice since reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon two months ago. Warming up for a match in Toronto three weeks ago, she felt something go in her right wrist and since then she has been having treatment and physiotherapy to try to repair a small tear in the sheath that goes around the tendon.
It is hardly the perfect preparation for a grand slam, particularly when Robson finds herself playing the diminutive but experienced Spaniard who is known to have the defensive tendencies of a cornered ferret. There is no ball Dominguez Lino will not chase down and send looping back with no pace and masses of topspin. The Spaniard’s game is designed to infuriate and it has beaten Robson twice in the past 12 months.
Robson is resigned to her fate: she can do nothing about the injury except hope that it holds up in the coming days – and if it does not, there is always next year in New York. Robson is only 19, after all. “I want to do well, but at the same time I’m just happy to be playing,” she said. “If I play well and win a couple of rounds, then great, but if not I’ll just go back to training in London.”