Determined Andy Murray sees room for improvement ahead of US Open
Defeats in the third round and the quarter-finals of his two build-up tournaments have not been the ideal preparation as Andy Murray looks ahead to the defence of his US Open title, but the world No 2 will put his early departures from the Montreal and Cincinnati Masters in perspective.
After all, his results over the last fortnight have actually been better than they were in the equivalent tournaments last year, when he went on to claim his maiden Grand Slam title in New York.
Following his loss to Ernests Gulbis in Montreal 10 days ago, Murray was beaten 6-3 6-4 by Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals in Cincinnati on Friday night. The Scot, whose form had picked up considerably in his two previous wins over Mikhail Youzhny and Julien Benneteau, had looked in good shape at the start, holding his serve with four successive aces, but the match turned when Berdych broke in the eighth game.
Although Murray beat Berdych en route to his Flushing Meadows triumph last summer and at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the end of last year, the 27-year-old Czech often gives him trouble. Berdych has won six of their 10 meetings, his victory in Cincinnati having followed a straight-sets win over the Scot in Madrid in May.
Murray admitted that he had struggled in his latest meeting with the world No 6. "The court was lively," Murray said. "It was bouncing pretty high, it was quite tough to control the ball. I made too many errors. I'll need to work on my groundstrokes a bit, make sure I'm not making too many mistakes going into the US Open."
The Wimbledon champion, nevertheless, will go into the year's final Grand Slam tournament, which begins a week tomorrow, as one of three favourites alongside Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, and Rafael Nadal, who was the only member of the game's Big Four to make it to the semi-finals in Cincinnati thanks to his 5-7 6-4 6-3 victory over Roger Federer. Following his triumph in Montreal, Nadal has made yet another remarkable recovery since his first-round loss to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon.
Murray's recent record in Grand Slam tournaments is second to none – of the last four he has played he has won two and finished runner-up in the others – and he has become a master at peaking at the right time. He loves New York, where he won his only junior Grand Slam title and reached his first senior Grand Slam final.
While Federer pushed Nadal hard, his defeat was the latest in a series of setbacks for the world No 5, who as the defending champion in Cincinnati has lost further ground to his rivals in the rankings. Since winning the title in Halle, Federer has had a miserable summer.
Having been beaten by Sergiy Stakhovsky, the world No 116, at Wimbledon, the Swiss went on to experiment in two clay-court tournaments with a bigger racket, which he has now abandoned. He missed Montreal last week because of a back problem.
Meanwhile Djokovic's defeat was even more surprising than Murray's, the Serb losing 7-6 3-6 7-5 to the big-serving American, John Isner. "I just played a very bad match overall," Djokovic said afterwards. "Terrible match. From beginning to end, except the start of the second set, I was just a different player totally."
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