When Andy Murray arrived in New York for the US Open, there was a general feeling that the Scot with the dodgy wrist was attempting to punch above his weight. Two matches and five days later and Dunblane's finest is moving through the divisions and is well on his way to becoming a heavyweight once more.
To come through more than three and a half hours in the broiling heat to defeat Jonas Bjorkman in five sets here on Thursday was yet more proof that Murray's wrist injury worries are behind him. The fact that he was tired but not finished in the fifth set suggested that his hours of punishing training at Nick Bollettieri's Florida academy this summer had not only maintained his stamina and strength but improved them during his time off. And the way that he dealt with the ups and downs of such a long and tense match showed that he is mentally prepared for anything the US Open has to throw at him.
With his body in good shape once more, Murray has been concentrating on his mental strength. With Roberto Forzoni, his sports psychologist, here to observe and advise him, Murray has been preparing for his matches by watching old tapes of Muhammad Ali in his pomp. A great follower of boxing, the Scot is trying to absorb the attitudes and approach of Ali and other greats of various sports. Not only is it working, but he thinks Forzoni's work here is almost done.
"I watched some videos of Muhammad Ali and Lance Armstrong and some other sports people," Murray said. "I watched bits and pieces of them last night. I also watched little bits of videos from my matches here from last year. I watched a bit of my match against [Fernando] Gonzalez [Murray won in five sets].
"I spoke to Roberto, too, after my first match and everything was good. The things that we'd spoken about before were fine, so there wasn't really anything to chat about. We didn't need to do anything more."
Now into the third round, Murray is gaining momentum here. Even if he was a little tetchy at times against Bjorkman, his focus on the task in hand never wavered. All in all, it was the sort of performance that made Bjorkman think that Murray is well on the road to recovery, both physically and mentally.
"He serves well, moves well," the Swede said. "There's no doubt he's going to be up there in the top. He can do mostly everything. What I think the biggest strength is he doesn't give you too many easy points. He makes you play a lot, moves well.
"You always got to be sure that you hit the ball at the perfect spot, too, if you want to come to the net and try to put it away. He has a few ups and downs still, but he's very consistent."
The next test of body and soul will come tomorrow against Lee Hyun Taik. Like Bjorkman, the 31-year-old has been around the block a few times and, when he is on his game, knows how to frustrate the young guns. No matter, Murray is aware of the challenge.
"I played him in San Jose this year," Murray said. "I won 7-6 in the third. He's a really good player. Very consistent. Solid. Does everything well. Doesn't do anything unbelievable, but he's in really good shape. He's got a good serve. Forehand, backhand is good. He moves well. It's going to be a hard match. Lee can give anybody problems."
These days, though, Murray knows that the biggest problems he faces tend to be of his own making. With a game that can bemuse and befuddle the very best, he just needs to do what comes naturally and all will be well. Now that he is healthy enough and strong enough to do just that, the confidence is returning and the doubts have been dispatched.
"The reason I wasn't playing well in Cincinnati and wasn't happy there was because I was going on the court not in a hundred per cent shape," Murray said. "I didn't think because I haven't played that many matches that I was going to come in here playing badly, because I think my hand-eye coordination is good. I didn't think that was going to be a problem."
Another night spent glued to the television screen watching "The Greatest" float like a butterfly and sting like a bee ought to be enough to put Murray through to the fourth round for the second consecutive year.
On court, the sixth-seeded American James Blake outlasted the 34-year-old Fabrice Santoro, of France, in a tense five-setter late on Thursday to advance to the third round. Blake hit a backhand, cross-court winner to claim a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 victory. Santoro twice needed to have his legs massaged during changeovers and received a medical timeout during the sixth game of the final set for further treatment but battled on.
Clutching his left thigh and back of his leg, Santoro went toe-to-toe with Blake to keep the final set on serve. The Frenchman held three break points in the ninth game before Blake finally held for 5-4.
Santoro won the first two points in the 10th game but lost the next four, watching Blake's backhand winner whizz by to end the match.
Both players received ovations from the crowd as they embraced at the net. "He said, 'It's amazing what I'm doing at my age'," Santoro said. "I said, 'Thank you, my son'."Reuse content