US Open: Andy Murray focused despite New York talk

Andy Murray and Serena Williams alongside the men's and women's US Open trophies during yesterday's draw ceremony. Picture: Getty
Andy Murray and Serena Williams alongside the men's and women's US Open trophies during yesterday's draw ceremony. Picture: Getty
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He is the talk of New York and, for the first time in his life he is attempting to defend a grand slam title but Andy Murray is not getting carried away with his own publicity.

The US Open and Wimbledon champion is something of a novelty in the Big Apple (it has been 77 years since Britain could boast a home-grown Wimbledon champion, after all) and the locals are getting over-excited about the prospect of seeing him retain his trophy in Flushing Meadows.

But if he were to achieve that feat, the pundits and the promoters of the US Open did not want to know how it would affect Murray’s career, his ranking or his outlook – all they cared about was whether it would make him bigger news back home than young Prince George.

“I think the future king is slightly bigger,” Murray said with a bashful smile. He knows his place. But as the first man to win a major title in several generations and who is now attempting to defend a major title for the first time in his career, Murray has had to get used to being big news wherever he goes.

“It’s obviously different, it’s a new experience for me,” he said after the US Open draw had been made yesterday. “I’ve never had to deal with that before. This week’s been a little bit busier, a few more demands on my time and whatnot but I’m looking forward to it – I just want the tournament to get started now. I’ve been here since Friday night so I’ve been practising the last few days and I’m looking forward to getting back on court.

“The first week or so after, it didn’t quite feel real. It was something I’d been working towards for a long time; there’d been a lot of pressure on me to do that – not just me but generations beforehand with Tim Henman as well – so I’ve enjoyed my tennis the last few weeks but now it’s time for business. This is a huge tournament for me. I came here the first time when I was 15, I played my first grand slam final here, my first grand slam win was here, I won the juniors when I was 17 so I love this tournament and I’ll try and have a good run.”

His run will begin in the first round against Michael Llodra, the 33-year-old Frenchman he beat in New York back in 2008 and whom he has beaten three times in three meetings. From there he will have to pick a path past Juan Monaco in the third round, Nicolas Almagro in the fourth round and, potentially, Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals. And Berdych beat him in Cincinnati last week.

Once into the sharp end of the event, Murray will probably have to play Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals and then either Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer in the final. Holding onto that silver trophy will be anything but easy but after all that he has learned and experienced in the past year or so, nothing on a tennis court fazes Murray any more.

“Coming to the US Open last year never having won a grand slam, I didn’t know if I was ever going to win one,” Murray said. “People would say to me, and the players would say in the press, ‘he’s good enough to win a grand slam, he’s going to win one’ but the more finals you lose in, the more you start to doubt yourself and think ‘is it ever going to happen’.

“So, you know, getting that weight off my shoulders at the US Open last year was huge, the Olympics was a very proud moment for me to win Olympic gold at a home Olympics – not many people get the opportunity to do that, so that was great – and then Wimbledon was obviously very, very special for a number of reasons.

“I actually think losing the Wimbledon final in 2012 was very big for me. It changed my career quite a lot. It was the first time I actually felt like I’d played a good match in a grand slam final. I think I approached the match the right way and I responded very well from it. Before when I’d lost in a grand slam final, I’d responded poorly and played badly for two or three months after it but having the Olympics right around the corner after the Wimbledon final was important and I think losing in that Wimbledon final was a turning point in my career.”

From that turning point, Murray has not looked back. And at least this time, he will not have to play Djokovic in the final. Ivan Lendl describes playing the Serb in a final as “like a war” while Murray himself always claims that such matches are both brutal and painful.

Without the pressure of a grand slam title hanging on every rally, playing Djokovic in the semi-finals will still be intense but it will not be quite as gut-wrenchingly nerve racking as the Wimbledon final.

And if Murray were to win here in two weeks’ time, he might surprise himself; he might just be bigger news than young Prince George at least for a day or so.