Hothouse conditions expose the cost of Andy Murray’s Olympic campaign
AS ONE of the three clear favourites for the US Open title, Andy Murray is trying very hard to keep his cool in New York. And now that he is the Olympic champion, is it is anything but easy.
It is not the extra weight of expectation that the gold medal brings that is causing the problem, it is the mere fact that he spent most of the summer in the cold and the damp of London. Compared to that, the steamy conditions he finds himself in now are getting him all hot and bothered.
Like most of the top players, Murray usually takes a break after Wimbledon. He spends three weeks training at his base in Miami and after Jez Green, his fitness trainer, has put him through his paces in the stifling heat and humidity of the south Florida summer, he is ready for anything the US Open can throw at him.
But this year, Murray missed that training block and, instead, won himself a couple of Olympic medals. When, on Saturday, as he almost melted in the 100F heat against Feliciano Lopez, he really missed that training block. For a couple of sets in the four hours it took him to dispose of the Spaniard 7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, Murray looked out for the count.
“It was tough,” Murray admitted. “It was physically challenging. I actually felt better towards the end of the match than I did maybe halfway through it. I think it was probably down to a combination of things, having not played that much in these conditions. It’s just taking a while to get used to it. Normally we get that three‑week training block in Miami before we come over to the States. Because of the Olympics, I obviously missed that. So it’s been tough.
“But having played a match like today in the heat and the humidity – obviously it was about four hours – it may help me for the remainder of the event. So just have to wait and see, do all the right recovery stuff. I feel okay just now. Hopefully I’ll be all right tomorrow. Get a good practice in, get myself ready for the next round.”
As Ivan Lendl sat, swathed in towels, at the side of the court, he was his usual impassive self. Watching his charge struggle against the world No 31 will not have cheered him but he could take comfort from the fact that Murray kept his composure. Whereas a year ago, the Scot might have let his frustrations get the better of him, on Saturday he dug in and fought his way through. It was not pretty and, at times, it was nail-bitingly close but Murray won and that is all that matters.
“There are a lot of things that are challenging,” Murray said. “In terms of your actual hitting the ball and skills, the ball tends to fly a lot. It bounces up a lot. It can be hard to control. So that’s tough. With the heat and the humidity, that can be quite draining. Physically you’re obviously sweating a lot, so you need to make sure you keep up your fluids because you can get tired much quicker. And keeping your focus. Maybe if I had concentrated a little bit better I could have finished the match in two and a half hours rather than four. But it is hard in those conditions to stay focused for a long time.”
Luckily, the forecasters are predicting slightly cooler temperatures in the coming days with a hint of rain thrown in for good measure. That will keep Murray cooler but he is going to have to stay very calm and collected if he is to get the better of Milos Raonic in the next round.
The tall Canadian has a huge serve and, thanks to the work done with his diminutive Spanish coach, Galo Blanco, has learned to defend as well as attack. This year, he has climbed to No 16 in the rankings and collected a couple of hard court titles at the start of the season. So far, they have been scheduled to play three times this year but in Miami, Raonic withdrew with a sprained ankle, in Toronto, Murray pulled out with a sore knee and in the only match they managed to complete, the Canadian won on clay in Barcelona.
“He has a huge serve,” Murray said. “He’s improved a lot from the back of the court. He goes for his second serve, as well. He can serve some double faults but also get free points from his second serve, too. It’s a similar kind of match to playing John Isner. I would say they have a similar game style. He has the same power on the serve as Isner. Probably can’t hit the spots that he can because of the height, but is maybe a little bit more solid from the back of the court. But this is his best year on the tour so far and it will be tough.”
But providing the temperatures do not reach boiling point again, as they did on Saturday, Murray should be able to keep his cool and secure his place in the quarter-finals.
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