Murray exudes an air of authority after schooling young pretender
Timing is everything in life and, at the moment, Andy Murray’s sense of time and place is second to none.
As the rain clouds move in on Flushing Meadows, there is a feeling of urgency in the locker room. Everyone wants to get their matches finished as quickly as possible before the heavens open and the schedule is thrown into disarray. So, on Monday night, Murray turned in his best performance of the tournament so far to thrash Milos Raonic 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 in two hours and walk off court just as the clouds started to drip. He could not have played better and he could not have timed his win more perfectly.
“It was just important for me to get through what was an unbelievably tricky match and had the potential to be a lot tougher than it was,” he said. “I was glad to get through and even more satisfied when we walked off to see the rain. It was perfect timing.”
Raonic was, in theory, Murray’s toughest test so far. The tall Canadian has a thundering serve, a huge forehand and a willingness to attack the net. He can overpower opponents without breaking a sweat yet, against Murray, he was defenceless. The Scot dismantled every element of the 21-year-old’s game – he returned well, he served with power and precision and he hit his passing shots to perfection – and made just six unforced errors in the first two sets. And he never faced a break point. After his struggle against Spaniard Feliciano Lopez on Saturday, it was a stunning and impressive display.
“The important thing is to remember what you have achieved in the game,” Murray said. “If you never look at that and just think how tough Raonic is then you might not play your best. I need to try to remember that I have won some big tournaments, I have won the Olympics and been in the final at three of the four slams.
“I’ve been at the top of the game for a long time now so I need to remember that when I get into these situations deep in the big events.”
Murray has never doubted his own ability with racket and ball but this sort of talk was new – he was talking like an established champion. And the source of this new confidence and belief is easy to trace – coach Ivan Lendl. The Czech was a bully on court who did not just want to beat his opponents, he wanted to crush them. Then again, the men he was doing battle with on a weekly basis – from John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors to Boris Becker – used to regard the opposition as surplus to requirements whenever they walked on court.
Some of that arrogance and aggression is clearly beginning to rub off on Murray.
In a hectic summer schedule, the world No 4 has had little time to think about what he has achieved so far. As soon as his Olympic medals had been hung around his neck, he was heading for the airport and tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati. Only when he got to New York did he have a moment to enjoy his success and to reflect. And a little quiet contemplation seems to have done him a world of good.
“When I got here, I took three days off and just spent some time on my own,” he said. “I hadn’t had any time on my own since the Olympics and I felt I needed to spend some time away from the guys because it can get a bit sterile sometimes. I just watched some of the football on television and got breakfast, lunch and dinner from Wholefoods .
“It was nice to relax and be on my own. When I’m at home I’m always with Kim or friends so this was the first in a while I had a couple of days by myself, walking around doing my own thing. It was nice.”
With his batteries recharged, Murray is now prepared to run his legs down to the knees in order to get his hands on the US Open trophy. The season has another three months to run but this is his last chance of major glory. The next six days in New York could be the turning point of his career.
“At this stage of the tournament it is not about keeping your energy stores high,” he said. “It is vital just to get through the match and leave everything out there on the court.
“You have to try to trust the training you have done. It has been a long, long summer and you have to win playing great tennis in a quick match or not playing well and getting through in five sets. If I can get through the next match, then I will have a couple of days off before what is the toughest weekend in our calendar – the semis and final of the US Open.”
That next match is against Marin Cilic, a man Murray has beaten six times in seven meetings. His only loss came here in 2009 when he was struggling with a wrist injury and the last time they met – just a few weeks ago at Wimbledon – Murray cruised through in straight sets.
“I have improved a lot since 2009 and, while I didn’t make a big deal about it at the time, I couldn’t hit a topspin backhand for about eight weeks after that,” Murray said. “Cilic will move better and return better than Raonic but his serve is much, much slower for sure. I have a lot of respect for him and I have to try to figure out a different way of playing against him.”
Given his current form and sense of occasion, Murray ought to have worked out what to do by the time he gets back on court today.
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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