US Open: Ten years on, Andy Murray's ambitions are different at Flushing Meadows - 365 days on, are Emma Raducanu's?
It is ten years since Andy Murray stood in the gents at Flushing Meadows, stared at himself in the mirror and told himself that he could do this; he could beat Novak Djokovic and win his first grand slam title.
So much has happened in those intervening years but now, a metal hip, two further grand slam titles, two Olympic gold medals, a knighthood and four children later, he is back. His ambitions are slightly different these days – that tin hip has seen to that – but he is basically the same Murray he always was.
He will launch his 16th US Open campaign on Monday against Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina. They have never played before and despite the fact that Cerundolo is ranked 22 places higher than Murray at No 27, on paper, it is a winnable match for the Scot. But many matches have looked like that over the last year or so – and they have not always worked out according to plan.
The cramping issues that have blighted his progress recently are still being investigated by the medics while on court, he is still able to create opportunities for himself but converting them seems to be harder than it used to be. These days, the focus of British attention has swung away from Murray and settled on Cam Norrie, the Wimbledon semi-finalist, and Emma Raducanu, the defending US Open champion.
Even without Djokovic in the draw, the next two weeks will be tough going for any potential champion. They list of contenders is long and it is stuffed tight with proven winners but, even so, Murray believes that Norrie will have his chances.
“I think the draw is definitely open, or more open, this year,” Murray said. “I would imagine that some of the guys that you would expect to go deep will do. Like your Medvedevs; I would expect Rafa to have a really go tournament. Alcaraz, Tsitsipas – these guys. But I do think there is going to be an opportunity there for Cam. He’s definitely got a chance of a good run. Obviously when it's hot and humid, that can help his game in some ways.”
And then there is Raducanu. She has had a torrid year since she lifted the trophy last September but in the last couple of weeks there have been signs of a return to form. Her run past Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati was the first hint of the Raducanu of last summer.
“I think she played really well last week,” Murray said. “I watched a couple of her matches and she was playing so much better. I think the balls that use over here help – they’re a lot lighter. That allows her to get a little bit more on her shots, on her serve. She seemed like she enjoyed the conditions there and I would imagine, with them being quick here in New York, she’ll enjoy them.”
Yet is a certain weariness about Raducanu. For most players, the idea of defending a title brings a little extra stress while defending their first title can be positively daunting. But the first title she is defending is the US Open – and, by the sounds of it, she cannot wait for it to be over.
“I think it will be nice, whatever happens this week,” she said. “I’m just going to be like OK, it’s 365 weeks later, pretty much, on the calendar tour and I think like whatever happens it’s going to be like a fresh start: you’ve taken it, you close a chapter and you start a new one. The only way is to look back at what worked, what didn’t work and take that forward as to what you’re going to use for the coming months, the coming years on the tour.”
If she loses to Alize Cornet on Tuesday night, her ranking will plummet from her current position of No 11 to around No 84 or No 85, not that she seems too bothered. After all, she bowled up to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center last year an 18-year-old rookie ranked No 150 and was chauffeured away again three weeks later as the champion. Anything is possible. But that success came at a cost.
“I am really, really fortunate and have a lot of amazing opportunities that come my way,” she said, “but for sure that comes with a certain trade-off where you don’t have any time to switch off or be alone or do things that you want to do. You’re constantly on guard. But it also comes with what I’ve done, what I’ve achieved and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
Her life is not her own anymore; she is surrounded by people guiding her and helping her but she is never left to her own devices. She can never just be Emma the teenager like she was a year ago.
“In a lot of ways I do feel like a different person,” she said. “I’m probably not going to be the same 18-year-old that is just swinging, no one knows who she is. Of course I miss that person. There are moments in the year when I did lose that person and I got very caught up in certain things. But I’m still young at the end of the day. I’m 19, going on 20 at the end of the year. It’s just going to happen. Anyone is going through things at this sort of age. It’s all normal so I’m fine with that.”
And in two days’ time or possibly – hopefully – two weeks’ time, she will have wiped that slate clean.