US Open: Andy Murray has new weapon

Andy Murray gave autographs to fans after Friday's win over Leonardo Mayer. Picture: Reuters
Andy Murray gave autographs to fans after Friday's win over Leonardo Mayer. Picture: Reuters
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ANDY Murray is not one for boasting. He may be wealthy, he may have talent that others can only dream of and he may be one of the best players in the world in one of the greatest eras his sport has ever seen, but he does not flaunt it.

No, Murray is still the same bloke he was back in 2005 when he set out on the professional circuit. He is more mature, of course, and he is more experienced but deep down, he is the same old Andy. Yet one key element in his makeup has changed in the past 12 months: confidence.

A year ago, he was still wondering if he was really good enough to beat the world’s best to win the biggest titles. Today, with two of those titles to his name already, he knows he is good enough. More than good enough. And now it is the turn of the others to worry when they face him – do they have what it takes to beat Andy Murray at a grand slam?

It is that sort of confidence that makes all the difference in the world in a difficult match. And on Friday night, Murray found himself in a bit of a tight spot against Leonardo Mayer, the talented but erratic world No.81 from Argentina. Murray was not playing particularly well – neither his serve nor his return were on song – but Mayer was playing like a dream in patches. But Murray did not panic (although his language was a little colourful from time to time) and there was never a thought that he might actually lose. Mayer could look flashy in spells but did he have the bottle to beat the US Open and Wimbledon champion? No, that was asking too much of the Argentine’s nerves.

“I know when I’ve played against Novak or Rafa or Roger for long periods, when you get towards the end set, it’s not easy to close it out,” Murray said. “It’s the same with matches. When you are in tricky positions, it’s important to remember your opponent may get nervous, may tighten up a little bit.

“If you can keep as many balls in play as possible there’s a chance you can [force] some errors and they will start rushing. So I’m not thinking, yes I’m Wimbledon and US Open champion when I’m on the court, I’m thinking more about my opponent’s feelings because I’ve been in that position before.”

That sort of experience and confidence is priceless at the major tournaments and can be worth a free point or two when the pressure is on. Murray will be hoping, though, that today’s encounter with Florian Mayer – no relation to the Argentine – will be a little more straightforward. He has beaten the German world No.47 twice before, both times on clay, and he knows what to expect of the 29-year-old. It will not be easy but it ought to be predictable.

“He’s very tough,” Murray said. “He comes to the net a bit. He has a good slice backhand, but he hits it with two hands, which isn’t how normally you’re taught to play that shot. He has very good feel up at the net, hits a lot of drop shots. He’s a pretty flat ball‑striker. He has huge, looping strokes. It can be tough to time your split step and know when he’s going to make contact with the ball. He’s caused a lot of guys problems over his career. I’ll need to play well to beat him.”

The Scot knows that his form is there or thereabouts at the moment. It is still the early stages of the tournament and he is easing his way into his stride but his opening match was clean and efficient and even if Friday’s performance was not a showstopper, he still got the job done in four sets. There is plenty more to come from Murray and no title contender expects to be at his absolute peak in the opening rounds.

“I thought the first match was very good,” Murray said. “I didn’t feel like I served as well against Mayer as I did in the first match but it was a different court and different conditions. I finished the match well today. I played well when I needed to. That’s a good sign. Obviously I want to keep improving as the tournament goes on. You don’t want to play your best right at the beginning, so I hope I can get better.”

And, after all he has achieved in the past 12 months, Murray knows that when he is at his best, he has the beating of anyone.

He may not be one to boast about it but, deep down, he knows it to be a fact. Better still, his main rivals know it, too.