Nothing stays the same for long in New York and history is what happened yesterday. The local bagel shop proudly announces “Established 2008” on its shop front as if being open for five years is a matter of record and note. And it is just the same at the US Open.
On Tuesday night, Andy Murray fought his way into the quarter-finals with a 6-7, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win over Denis Istomin. As has been the way of things this past ten days, it was not a performance the Scot will wish to remember fondly but it was good enough to get the job done and today he will face Stanislas Wawrinka. This is where everything changes and the tournament gathers momentum for the gallop towards the finish line. This is where the business gets very serious indeed.
The opening rounds are an irrelevance and as soon as the last point is played, they can be forgotten. Making progress is all that matters and even if Murray has only played well in fits and starts so far, he has reached the last eight of a grand slam for the 17th time in his career. Now that the trophy is coming into focus ahead of him, he is ready to move his game up to the next level.
“Hopefully I’ll start playing a little bit better from now on,” Murray said. “Sometimes in the first week of a slam, I’ve played very well; sometimes you maybe feel like there’s a little bit to lose. But I’m in the quarter-finals of a slam. It’s not an easy thing to do, and the matches are going to get tougher. I’ll have to up my game.”
Against Istomin, Murray was grumpy but determined. The conditions were tricky with a swirling wind, the Uzbek was cracking winners with abandon and nothing suited Scotland’s finest. The ball kids were sluggish, the line calls were late, the crowd never stopped moving and making noise – the whole evening was designed to torment him. But he won, which is all that mattered.
Murray and Wawrinka are old rivals and have played each other 13 times before – Murray has won eight of those matches – but three years ago, the Swiss inflicted a painful defeat on the world No 3. It was a topsy-turvy match and Murray simply faded away as it wore on. Yet a lot has changed since then: the Scot has a couple of grand slam titles to his name while Wawrinka has surged up the rankings and could, thanks to Roger Federer’s failing form, end the year as Switzerland’s top player.
“I struggled in that match and I didn’t play particularly well,” Murray recalled. “I did go away from that a bit down, it was a tough loss for me for sure.
“Stan’s improved this year quite a bit. Some of the things he didn’t do so well before he’s improved. So he has less weaknesses. He’s more experienced now. He has a very good backhand. He serves well, he’s solid up at the net. He makes a lot of returns. He makes it very tricky for you. He’s a top player. It will be a very tough match for me.”
Should Murray win today, he would probably find himself facing Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals and the Serb has been making serene progress through the draw. The world No 1 has yet to drop a set and has only lost 22 games in four rounds but Murray is not concerned. “I always say that in tennis, and any individual sport, it doesn’t really matter what happened two days ago,” Murray said. “You turn up on the day of the next match and you might feel awful. You never know. It doesn’t matter how you’ve played up to this point; you can always get better – or get worse. I saw some of Novak’s match today. It looked like he played extremely well. But the matches will get tougher now.”
But whatever happens in the coming days, Murray’s position as a national treasure has been assured thanks to his victory at Wimbledon. At the beginning of the year, he was awarded an OBE and by mid-summer, Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to give him a knighthood. He is collecting gongs almost as quickly as he is collecting grand slam trophies and, as he dealt with Istomin in Flushing Meadows, GQ magazine was handing out its Men of the Year awards at a posh do in London. Murray’s win in SW19 earned him the outstanding achievement accolade.
“When I get home, I suppose things will have changed for me but I haven’t really seen too much of it so far,” he said. “In terms of awards and stuff, I don’t know what sort of awards there are still to come, but it’s been a great year for me.
“Regardless of what happens here, whatever happens between now and the end of my career, winning Wimbledon is what I will be remembered for. I’ll try to enjoy the end of the year once I’m done here.”
If he can notch up three more wins in the next few days, he will enjoy it even more. He might even edge a little closer to that knighthood.