When Andy Murray left the French Open as the beaten finalist at the start of June, the sages and the soothsayers sucked their teeth.
This would be the year of the Novak Djokovic golden slam, they said – no one could beat the world No 1 and the best that Murray, the man he had punished already in the Australian Open and now at Roland Garros, could hope for was a silver slam: being second best to the Serb at all the events that matter.
But two months on, Murray has shredded such predictions. The champion of Wimbledon and of the Rio Olympics, he has arrived in New York as the man to beat for the US Open title.
Should he get to the final in two weeks’ time, he will become only the fourth man in history to reach all four grand slam finals in one year (Djokovic did it last year and Roger Federer and Rod Laver achieved the feat before him). And he comes to the Big Apple with his confidence at an all-time high as the only man ever to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal.
Four years ago, Murray won his first major title at Flushing Meadows and he did so as the Olympic champion and the Wimbledon finalist. He comes back having gone one better by winning in SW19 and so far, since he has reunited with Ivan Lendl, he has lost just one match (the Cincinnati final last Sunday).
At the draw yesterday, the fates smiled kindly on the Scot, parking all the big, tall muscle men in Djokovic’s half and leaving Murray to begin his campaign in the quieter waters against Lukas Rosol, the world No 82 from the Czech Republic. After that he will take on either Juan Monaco or Marcel Granollers before potentially facing his first seed in Gilles Simon from France, the No 30 seed.
According to the seedings, Murray should have to get past either Grigor Dimitrov or Feliciano Lopez in the fourth round and Kei Nishikori or David Goffin in the quarter-finals, with Stan Wawrinka, Dominic Thiem or Nick Kyrgios being the favourites to be his semi-final opponent but, even so, the numbers do not look good for any of the challengers.
Of the possible rivals to Murray in the bottom half, none has a winning record against the Scot and in all he has faced them 85 times and lost just 16 times. Seven of those losses were to Wawrinka but Murray still leads their rivalry 9-7.
As ever, all eyes will be on Djokovic to see whether he has recovered from the bitter losses he endured in the third round at Wimbledon and in the first round at the Olympics and if his ailing left wrist has recovered sufficiently for him to live up to his top billing in New York.
The wrist problem picked up in Rio had, he hoped, been patched up enough for him to play well in the next couple of weeks but it was his off-court issues that were still swathed in mystery.
When he lost to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, the rumour mill worked itself up into a frenzy of speculation, blaming his loss on anything and everything from physical and mental exhaustion following his first win at the French Open to marital problems at home. All he would say yesterday was that things were a bit better now than they were then.
“Everything is fine,” Djokovic said mysteriously. “Again, I am in a position, like everybody else, like all of you, we all have private issues and things that are more challenges than issues, more things that we have to encounter and overcome in order to evolve as a human being. That was the period for me. It happened right there. Was resolved and life is going on like everything else.”