Andy Murray is not alone – and that is a novelty at the US Open. As he squares up to Kevin Anderson today, aiming for a place in the quarter-finals, Johanna Konta will be doing likewise to Petra Kvitova and that strength in numbers is only adding to the feelgood factor surrounding the Scot.
Two days ago, Murray sounded as miserable as sin. He was sick, he was tired and he had spent more than three hours trying to get rid of Adrian Mannarino. But as the clock ticked towards midnight on Saturday, he was bright eyed, feeling better and playing well to beat Thomaz Bellucci 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. Life was looking up.
“Today I felt much, much better,” he said cheerily. “My voice feels normal again. Still dull, obviously, but it feels more normal today and not blocked up or anything anymore, which is good. Yeah, that’s very positive.
“I felt like I played well. It was a tough, tough start to the tournament for me. It was a very testing couple of rounds. Obviously managed to just get through them. And today I played a little bit better. I feel better, as well. I wasn’t feeling great the first few days. Now that that’s cleared up, I felt much better on the court tonight.”
In normal circumstances, Murray would have tried to conserve as much energy as possible during the first week of any grand slam in order to be ready for the more gruelling matches to come. But, thanks to the virus, he has not had that luxury and at the end of a long, hard summer, the last thing he needed was a five-set marathon against Mannarino in stifling conditions. No matter, he has trained carefully and precisely to deal with the draining effects of the Open and then be ready for the Davis Cup tie against Australia immediately afterwards. Murray thinks he will be just fine now that he is well again.
“The match I played with Mannarino the other day, the first two sets were extremely tough, the third set was quick, the beginning of the fourth was very hard and then after that it wasn’t,” he said.
“In the fifth set we barely played any long points. The conditions were brutal but both of us were extremely tired and the level of tennis wasn’t great, but that match was like three hours, 15 minutes and a couple of the sets were not that challenging. Novak [Djokovic] managed to recover from a five-hour match and play six hours a couple of days later [at the Australian Open in 2012] so I can recover, I think, from three hours.
“Obviously, if I was to lose in the next round, I’d have more time to prepare for the Davis Cup, which is a big priority between now and the end of the year. But, ideally, I would be going into the Davis Cup having played on the Sunday here.
“I don’t feel more stressed by it, but I have had thoughts about it – obviously I’ve played a lot of tennis and thinking about maybe by the time I get to the Davis Cup I could be flat or even towards the end of the tournament here. I hope that’s not the case because I did plan it with my team about my training and stuff so that that wouldn’t be the case but you always have thoughts like that about big events especially with Davis Cup.”
Murray’s main concern, though, is Anderson today. He dismantled the tall South African to win the Queen’s club title in June, his fifth win in six meetings against the 6ft 8ins serving machine. As one of the best returners on the tour, Murray has always had success against the big men with big serves and against Anderson, who has never got beyond the fourth round of a grand slam before, he knows what to expect.
“They’re always tricky matches,” Murray said. “But getting a lot of returns in play is something that throughout most of my career I’ve been good at. Often the big servers, they come into matches used to getting a lot of free points. It changes their mindset a little bit in the way they play the match and play the points. That’s why I think I’ve had good success against them in the past.”
When he has not been preparing for his own matches, Murray has taken a keen interest in Konta’s progress. On a 16-match unbeaten run, she is in the form of her life and has removed two seeds from her path already in Garbine Muguruza, the No 9, and, on Saturday, Andrea Petkovic, the No 18. Today will be another huge step up for her against Kvitova, the world No 4, but Murray is impressed with the progress she has made so far.
“What Jo’s doing is really exciting,” he said. “I think it’s important for girls [in Britain] to have top female players to look up to. A lot of kids that play the game might not like me, so it’s great if there’s more players around, so if they don’t like me, great, love Jo Konta or love Laura Robson or Heather [Watson] or Kyle [Edmund].
“I think it’s important to have a lot of players around, I think that’s good for the general health of the game and it helps the LTA to do their job. The players’ job is to perform in the big events and then it’s their job to capitalise on that.”