“I’m starting to know what Andy felt like for a long time,” Jamie Murray said having lost the US Open doubles final. He and his partner John Peers were beaten by Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert, their second defeat in a major final this summer.
Andy Murray lost four grand slam finals before he got his hands on the serious silverware here in New York in 2012, a run of bitter disappointment for the Scot that lasted for four years. At the rate Jamie and Peers are notching up the major finals, it ought not to be too long before they start collecting the big trophies and the even bigger pay cheques. Yesterday, though, they were beaten 6-4, 6-4 and had to take the defeat on the chin.
“Me and John had a great year to get to the Wimbledon final and the final here,” said Jamie, who won the mixed doubles title at SW19 in 2007. “We’re very fortunate and very blessed to be able to do that. A lot of hard work has gone into the team over the last two and a half years. We’ll keep trying to get over the line and get a grand slam title.”
“It has been a ride.” Peers added. “There have been a lot of ups and downs but we’ve got to look at the positives and this is one of the best tournaments to play in the world. It has been a lot of fun and it was unfortunate we were not able to come away with the win.”
The only two teams to reach two grand slam finals this season, both pairs were desperate to finally get a win under their belts. For Mahut, the oldest man on the court at 33, he was trying to shake off his “nearly man” image. In 2013, he had the backing of the whole of Paris as he and Michael Llodra reached the Roland Garros final but they were done in three sets by the Bryan brothers. Finally, at the third time of asking, he had managed to reach his goal.
Mahut’s partnership with Herbert, the world No.92 in singles, started at the end of last year and since then, they had only lost eight matches on their way to yesterday’s final. A less experienced team in terms of time spent together than Murray and Peers, they had gelled instantly and with Mahut’s serve and Herbert’s volleying prowess, they had established themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
But the Frenchmen also have ambitions on the singles circuit while Murray and Peers are exclusively doubles men. Murray has already stated the team’s ambition to become one of the driving forces at the top of the rankings, ready and waiting to take over as the established order get older and more vulnerable.
The benchmark in doubles was set long ago by the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike. The American twins have been the best team in the world since February 2013 and got their first taste of life as No.1s back in September 2003 – they are the team to beat. So in their first few weeks together, Murray and Peers beat them to win the Houston title in 2013. That was all the proof the Scots-Aussie team needed to show that this partnership was going to work.
Getting better with every season that passes, Murray is now reaching the potential he showed back in 2007 when he won his first titles with Eric Butorac.
“Jamie is playing great, he has been so sharp all year,” Leon Smith, the Davis Cup captain, said. “He’s returning well, better than ever. His serve has improved as well. I don’t think there is any coincidence that as well as travelling with his own coach, Alan McDonald, in addition he has Louis Cayer being back on the road. That has definitely helped them again with confidence.”
But Cayer sat beside a nervous-looking Judy Murray as his protégé could not find a way to stop the Frenchmen from storming to the title. If the French pair had looked good in the semi-finals, they were razor sharp from the very first ball yesterday. Mahut was playing well but his younger team-mate, Herbert, did not put a racket string wrong in the 69 minutes it took to win.
Soon targeting Peers as the weaker link in the partnership, the Frenchmen peppered him with attacks in the rallies and, sure enough, it was Peers who dropped his serve to lose the first set. From then on, he was the target man. Murray did all he could to hold the defences firm – and the last rally of the match was simply sensational from all four men – but despite saving one match point, he could not hold out forever and it was his serve that cracked in the last game.
But once the disappointment has subsided – and for Murray, the Davis Cup semi-final against Australia next weekend will help with that – Peers and Murray can plan for a trip to London’s O2 Arena at the end of the season.
They are now virtually assured of their place in the ATP World Tour Finals and getting there was their main goal for the year.