It probably says more about Britain's desperate search for sporting heroes than Andy Murray's prospects of success in the forthcoming US Open, but he was yesterday quoted by bookmakers as the 6-4 favourite to be the BBC TV Sports Personality of the Year.
Murray's odds were cut from 8-1 on the strength of one win in the Western and Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati, a tournament of which large sections of the British public were probably unaware until the country's No 1 player pulled off one of the shocks of the year by beating Roger Federer, 7-5, 6-4.
The the 19-year-old Scot built on that success last night with another remarkable performance, conquering fatigue and searing 40C heat to beat Robby Ginepri 7-6, 2-6, 6-4 to earn a place in today's quarter-finals. He will now play the winner of yesterday's night match between Andy Roddick and Juan Ignacio Chela.
Draping cold towels around his neck at the changeovers in an attempt to stay cool, Murray showed extraordinary resilience to beat the world No 18 Ginepri. He took the first-set tie-break after saving two set points at 4-5, but wilted from 2-2 in the second set, losing eight of the next 10 games, only to find a second wind deep into his 13th match in 16 days.
Murray broke back from 30-0 down at 4-3 in the final set to set up a thrilling finale. The first point of the final game summed up Murray's wonderful spirit as he chased a succession of lost causes and then beat Ginepri with a brilliant lob.
Admitting that he was struggling physically, Murray said he was not used to playing so many matches.
"I think that's the toughest match I've played," the Scot said. "I felt a bit ill after the first few games because it was so hot out there. I think it showed that I still have some work to do physically."
Brad Gilbert, Murray's new coach, believes that Murray's physical condition is one of the keys to his future. The Scot's progress has been hindered in the past year by back problems, which have been put down to growing pains, and he struggles to last the distance in matches. Murray himself believes that he is not yet strong enough to win a Grand Slam tournament.
"It may take a few years, but my game is getting there," the Scot said. "With Brad working with me, he's helped a lot. Physically, I'll get stronger. I think I'll have a good chance in a couple of years. To win a Grand Slam you have to be in unbelievable shape and I don't think too many 19-year-olds do win Grand Slams.
"I just think I need to get better physically. I can play five-set matches but playing five-set matches back-to-back is what you have to do in Slams. If I was to win every match in straight sets then, yes, I probably could do it. But if I have a lot of long matches, then I'm probably not strong enough to do it just yet."
Gilbert has already been working on Murray's fitness, with the Scot having to adapt to much earlier starts to his day. He has also been soaking his right hand in a jar of pickle juice to counter blisters.
Next week he will go to Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida, where he will work with Mark Grabow, one of America's leading conditioning coaches, in preparation for the start of the US Open in 10 days' time. Already at a career-high No 21 in the world rankings, Murray will move up again next week, guaranteeing himself a good seeding in New York.
It is surely no coincidence that one of the best runs of Murray's short career he reached the final in Washington and the semi-finals in Toronto in the previous two weeks has coincided with the appointment of Gilbert, a tactical maestro.
The victory over Federer, in particular, was a triumph of strategy as Murray targeted the Wimbledon champion's weaker backhand side, forcing a series of errors and denying the world No 1 the chance to find any rhythm on the other flank. He won most of the longer rallies, thanks largely to the depth and weight of his shots, regularly went for backhand winners and attacked Federer's second serve. He broke the Swiss seven times.
Murray is no mean tactician himself witness his wonderful dismantling of Andy Roddick at Wimbledon this summer when he was without a coach and on the evidence of this month the partnership with Gilbert has great potential.
"The more he wins, the better position he will be in for seeding at Grand Slam tournaments and moving up the rankings," Gilbert said. " The most important thing when you are 19 is to keep getting better."
* John Lloyd, Britain's new Davis Cup captain, will drop the national No 4 Alex Bogdanovic for the vital Euro-African Zone relegation match against Ukraine next month after his poor performance in the defeat to Israel.Reuse content