Life for Andy Murray is so very different now. On Monday, the US Open will burst into life celebrating its 50th anniversary as an open championship and Murray will be on the bill to get the festivities started. So far, so normal. But that is as far as it goes.
This is the event that launched Murray: winning the junior title in 2004, reaching his first grand slam final here in 2008 and then winning his first major title in 2012. It is a tournament that he loves and knows well. But for the first time in his life, he has no idea what to expect. Every year he has come to Flushing Meadows with the aim of winning the trophy; this time he comes in the hope of playing as well as he can.
“These are the tournaments that for pretty much the last ten or 11 years of my life I’ve dedicated all of my sort of training and off-seasons and stuff to prepare to perform well in these events,” he said. “Missing them is hard, and also coming back to them is great.
“It feels slightly different, this one because, again, for the last ten years or so I’ve been coming and trying to prepare to win the event, whereas I don’t feel like that’s realistic for me this year.
“It’s a slightly different mentality for me coming in than what I have had the last ten, 11 years of my life. That feels a bit odd.”
When he opted not to risk his recovery from hip surgery at Wimbledon, pulling out on the eve of the championship, he was just a month into his comeback. And after making that sacrifice, his next goal was to devote his days to yet more rehab for his hip and to hard court training and practice to prepare for the American summer swing. Entered for the tournaments in Washington, Toronto and Cincinnati, he had a solid block of play booked before the start of the US Open. But fate had other ideas.
After three, three-set matches in four days in Washington, he pulled out of the event and abandoned his plans to play in Canada in order to give his body time to recover and rest. His trip to Cincinnati lasted just one match – he lost to Lucas Pouille – and he has spent most of the past few weeks training in Philadelphia. Coming back to the Big Apple, he just wants to see how he copes with the best-of-five set format.
“I haven’t played one, so you don’t know until you actually get out there and do it – that’s the thing,” Murray said. “I played some long matches in Washington. They were all over two-and-a-half hours, and a three-hour match. Three of them in four days. The benefit of the slams is having that day off to recover in between, which will help me.
“The last few days, I practised for a couple of hours each day with some of the players. It’s been good. It’s been difficult. My tennis has been a bit of stop-starty because after Washington, [I] took a few days off the court, then built back up again.
“My body feels better than it did a few weeks ago, so that’s positive. Just being around these players and practising with them more and more on a more consistent basis is going to help me improve.”
The last few weeks have been lonely – his family only joined him a couple of days ago and he is delighted now to resume his role as a full-time dad. For all the concerns and frustrations of the past 14 months, being at home with his two daughters has been a real bonus.
“That was the only good part about being injured: I got to spend lots and lots of time with them growing up,” Murray said. “That’s been nice. So it was the most positive part about being injured and the downside of being back on the road again. I’m happy that they’re here.”
Murray has said before that one of the motivating factors that got him through the last year of injury and rehab was the hope that he could get back on tour and play long enough for his daughters, Sophia and Edie, to watch him compete and understand what it is that he does for a living. They are a bit young yet – Sophia is two and a half and Edie is nine months – so Murray has time to get his game in shape before they start to notice what daddy does. For the moment, the aim is just to play as well as he can.
“My expectation is to give my best effort in the matches,” Murray said. “Hopefully if I do that, my tennis will get better. Take each match at a time. It’s kind of difficult to predict how you’re going to do and say how far you’re going to go in the event.
“My tennis is getting better all the time. I just need to be on the court more consistently through till the end of the year.”
Life at the US Open may be very different for Murray this year but week by week, it is getting better and better.