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US Open: Murray seeks vintage start against Llodra

Andy Murray arrives for a practice session during Day One of the US Open. Picture: Getty

Andy Murray arrives for a practice session during Day One of the US Open. Picture: Getty

  • by ALIX RAMSAY
 

ANDY Murray does not drink but Michael Llodra does. In fact, as the owner of a wine bar and a vineyard, the Frenchman’s thoughts are drawn to the grape as he compares his characteristics to those of Murray.

“Andy would probably be a sweet wine – a Sauternes, like a Chateau d’Yquem or something like that,” Llodra said. “When you’re on the court against him you can feel that it’s impossible to move him or to win the point. It’s not easy. When you watch him on TV you can see that he doesn’t have a really big weapon, but when you’re on the court you can feel something strong from him.”

“But I would be a wine from the Rhone Valley, something like a Cote-Rotie. Some years it’s good and some years it’s bad!”

At 33, Llodra is coming to the end of his career – he is contemplating retirement at the end of next year – so his every moment on a show court is now precious. And, he thinks, drawing Murray in the first round means that his trip to the Big Apple may be brief so he had better enjoy every moment of it.

He has played the world No 3 three times before and has only managed to prise one set from the Scot’s grasp – and that was in New York back in 2008. But that was before Murray had got the hang of winning grand slams; Llodra knows that, these days, getting so much as a sniff of a chance against the defending champion is almost impossible.

“Andy’s had an unbelievable year, especially winning at Wimbledon,” Llodra said. “There had been a lot of pressure on him for a long time and finally he did it. He’s won two slams now, so he’s a totally different player. He’s more solid. Before, he was playing well but there were periods in matches, maybe for only ten minutes, when he did not play so well and you had your chances to beat him. He’s pretty strong physically. He’s one of the best athletes on the tour. He has a lot of confidence. He’s on the top of his form and he’s one of the best players in the world.

“It will be especially tough for me because I’ve just come back from a knee injury. I’ll do my best. But all matches are different. If I am to have a chance of beating a guy like him it’s good that we are meeting in the first round.”

Llodra is a throwback to a distant age and, as a serve-and-volleyer, he has made most of his money on the doubles circuit. He is one of the characters of the tour, always pulling practical jokes on his colleagues and generally acting the fool around the locker room. But when it comes to the serious business of matchplay, Llodra’s style is entertaining but barely leaves a dent of the defences of the top men.

“He’s always making noise, he’s like a young kid with so much energy,” Murray said. “He’ll be winding people up, slapping you on the back – he’s like a younger version of Henri Leconte. A funny guy.”

Such frivolity comes as a welcome relief from the focused, pressurised existence of a defending champion. Since he arrived in New York, Murray has been keeping himself to himself in an attempt to avoid the hype and the hoopla that surrounds the lead-up to the Open. As soon as his media commitments and practice sessions have been completed, he retires to his hotel, locks the door and tries to relax.

His form coming into the Open has been moderate at best, while Rafael Nadal has been mopping up the Masters titles to a band playing. Novak Djokovic, meanwhile, is aiming for his third consecutive final here and his fourth in all. But Murray is not concerned: last summer he won just one match between winning the Olympic final and starting the US Open and then went on to win the title. Form can vary but, with two grand slam titles to his name already, Murray’s belief is now constant.

“Coming in last year, I didn’t know if I could win a grand slam or if it was going to happen,” Murray said. “I was doubting myself quite a lot so to have finally got over that hurdle, it obviously helps going into the slams now and I feel more comfortable in the latter stages of the tournament.

“I don’t really think there is a favourite for the title. I don’t really buy into that much because in a sport like tennis, because of the skill that’s involved, from one day to the next, you can play great tennis one day and wake up a couple of days later and feel horrible so I don’t think there’s a clear favourite.

“Novak has played great tennis on the hard courts over the last couple of years and obviously Rafa would be the form player just now with how he’s been playing.”

And today Murray is the form horse going into his match with Llodra as everyone, Llodra included, is willing to admit. And at least Llodra knows that there is a decent glass of something medicinal waiting for him when it is all over.

 

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