Murray happy in his second home
Scot keen to step on court in New York where fans will give him warmest welcome
Saturday 29 August 2009
There are fiercely competitive qualifying matches being played on courts all around Flushing Meadows, but the biggest crowd is in Louis Armstrong Stadium, where two men are practising in readiness for the start of the US Open on Monday.
James Blake, who was born up the road in Yonkers, is one attraction, but the player on the other side of the net is just as big a draw. Long after the end of the practice session, Andy Murray's entourage are still waiting patiently as the 22-year-old Scot signs autographs for the hordes of children who have descended on the court.
If sections of the British public needed time to take Murray to their hearts – and there are some who still seem unwilling to show him a fraction of the affection in which they held Tim Henman – Americans have had no such doubts. Murray's uncompromising approach and focus on his task may not go down well with some of the strawberries-and-Pimm's set, but on this side of the Atlantic everyone loves an out-and-out winner.
The affection is mutual. Just like Fred Perry, the last British man to win a Grand Slam title, 73 years ago, Murray feels at ease on this side of the Atlantic. America is where he won his only Grand Slam junior title (in 2004), his first senior tournament (at San Jose in 2006) and his first Masters Series crown (in Cincinnati last summer). It is also where he reached his first – and hitherto only – Grand Slam final (losing to Roger Federer last year) and became world No 2 (after overtaking Rafael Nadal last week).
Twenty minutes after his practice session, Murray settles into a chair in the players' garden and reflects on his favourite Grand Slam event and his achievements on these courts last year. "I always love coming to New York but it feels like quite a long time," Murray said. "I guess a lot's happened in the last year. It's been quite a busy year, with not too many stops."
What were his best memories from last year's tournament? "Playing my first night match was special. I'm not taking anything away from making the final, but I'd always wanted to play a night match since I came here the first time as a junior. That was one of the nicest parts of last year for me: getting the chance to play in that sort of atmosphere."
Having arrived here last weekend, Murray's planned day of relaxation on Monday did not get off to the best of starts when a drug tester woke him at his hotel. "It annoyed me because it was the first time I'd had a day off for quite a while and I wanted to have a lie-in," Murray said. "When you get woken up at 7.15 on the day after a tournament finishes it's a bit of a drag."
While the top players acknowledge the need for drug-testing – "No one wants cheats in the sport," Murray stressed – several have expressed their annoyance with the "whereabouts" programme, which requires them to detail where they will be available for testing for one hour every day of the year. They can also be subject to "out-of-hours" tests, as Murray experienced when a tester called at his home three days before the start of Wimbledon.
"It was after nine o'clock and I'd just finished dinner," he said. "I'd just gone to the toilet and you're not going to force yourself to drink, say, two litres of water just so that you can go to the toilet. You want the guy out of your house at that time. The guy's just sitting there and you're just waiting to go to the toilet."
Murray also recalled an encounter with a tester after losing his Wimbledon semi-final to Andy Roddick. "Within two minutes of getting off the court the guy is right there, standing next to you. I just very politely said to him: 'Can you give me a little bit of space please? I'd like to be on my own for five minutes'. He said: 'Yeah, sure'. He took one step back.
"When he did that, I said: 'Right, I'm going to go and do my test right now'. I went downstairs, did my urine sample and was then told I had to go and do a blood test as well. I said: 'That's fine, let's do it'. They said: 'Sorry, you can't do the blood test now. You've got to wait until 45 minutes, an hour after your match before you do it'. There are so many rules and things that if you do everything right, they still keep you waiting."
Murray has also been in demand here with the local media. He was a guest on NBC's Today programme, a sure indication of his growing popularity in these parts, and spent much of Tuesday doing a series of interviews. He will be one of the major attractions at today's Arthur Ashe Kids' Day, where he will partner the comedian and actor Will Ferrell in a celebrity doubles match against Roddick and Will Arnett, another star from the silver screen.
Thereafter the serious work begins. If Murray were to reach the final again he might face the same opponents as last year in his last four matches – Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round, Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals, Nadal in the semi-finals and Federer in the final.
Just as he did 12 months ago, Murray has arrived fresh from a good run in the summer's two hard-court Masters Series events, having won in Montreal and reached the semi-finals in Cincinnati. Between Wimbledon and Montreal he spent a fortnight training in the heat and humidity of Miami, which proved good preparation given that all nine of his subsequent matches were played in the middle of the day rather than at night. "Not that many of the players have had to deal with that," he said. "It's good to come through physically and it will make me in better shape for the US Open."
The key difference between now and last year is the experience Murray has gained in the intervening 12 months. In that time he has won seven tournaments, climbed from No 6 to No 2 in the world rankings, matched his best performance at the Australian Open in reaching the fourth round and improved on his previous bests at the French Open and Wimbledon, where he made the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.
Does he sense that people are looking at him as an even stronger contender here this year? "I don't know, to be honest," Murray said. "I get asked those sort of questions all the time. It's impossible for me to answer. I feel like I'm a better player than I was last year. I feel fitter and stronger."
Storm defeats Robson’s bid to qualify
Flushing Meadows lived up to its name here yesterday as torrential rain seriously disrupted the final day of qualifying for next week's US Open.
The start of Laura Robson's match against Eva Hrdinova was delayed for five hours and was then called off for the day shortly after the Czech won the first set on a tiebreak.
Robson, who made her senior Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon, was given a wild card into qualifying here. Britain's world No 460 has already beaten Stephanie Foretz (No 128) and Aniko Kapros (No 253).
Elena Baltacha, who plays Russia’s Anastasia Rodionova, never got on court and, like Robson, will have to hope the weather improves today. Mel South lost in three sets to Julia Schruff in the second round of qualifying on Thursday night.
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