Murray relishes return to noisiest Grand Slam event

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The Independent Online

The US Open, which begins here today, is not everybody's favourite event. The heat and the humidity can be stifling, the scheduling can be taxing and the hullabaloo off the court can test even the coolest players. The noise and razzmatazz of a night in the Arthur Ashe Stadium is a world away from the hushed and respectful silence of Wimbledon's Centre Court.

For Andy Murray, however, there is no more enjoyable tournament in the world. The British No 1 has felt an affinity with Flushing Meadows since he won the US Open junior title four years ago. The hard courts here are his favourite surface and he has a good rapport with the crowds.

"It's a great atmosphere," Murray said. "I find the people very friendly and the weather tends to be very good. I love the tournament. The atmosphere is different to all the other Grand Slams. There's always a little buzz, even in the middle of the points. That's the main difference bet-ween this tournament and others. It's good for the crowd to get into it."

He is making no predictions, but Murray looks better placed than ever to go deep into a Grand Slam tournament. The 21-year-old Scot has enjoyed the best summer of his career, reaching his first Grand Slam quarter-final, at Wimbledon, and winning his first Masters series title in Cincinnati.

His draw looks fav-ourable. Today Murray plays Sergio Roitman, a 29-year-old Argentine who hardly strays from clay courts and has not won a match on any other surface since January. Michael Llodra (the world No 38) or Teimuraz Gabashvili (85) would await in the second round, probably followed by Feliciano Lopez (28) in the third and Stanislas Wawrinka (10) in the fourth. David Ferrer is his scheduled quarter-final opponent and although the world No 4 was a semi-finalist here last year the Scot won their only previous meeting on hard courts.

The winner would probably face Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. Murray has never beaten the new world No 1, but, away from clay, he feels he has been close.

"Each time I've played him on hard courts, I've felt comfortable. I've never felt that I was outclassed. This for me is my best surface and I think once I get stronger physically and my game gets better over the next year or two, I'm sure I'll beat him sooner rather than later."

Did Murray feel ready to win a Grand Slam tournament? "I don't think you really know whether you're ready or not," he said. "You do all the things that are going to give you the best shot of doing it and when the opportunity comes you either take it or you don't.

"I'd like to think that I can take it when the opportunity comes, but I've never been past the quarters before. I've put in enough work off the court to feel like I can do it physically. Now it just comes down to putting the game together for the whole two weeks."

Roger Federer has won the last four US Opens but after a poor year by his standards the Swiss will not be the top seed at a Grand Slam event for the first time since the 2004 Australian Open. Nadal is No 1 after an outstanding summer in which he has won the French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic titles. He has lost only one match since early May.

The Spaniard's only defeat was in Cincinnati against Novak Djokovic, who reached his first Grand Slam final here 12 months ago and is the other form player of the summer. Djokovic is seeded to meet Federer in the semi-finals, having lost to the Swiss in the final last year.

Two more Serbs, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, head the women's competition, with the injured Maria Sharapova a notable absentee. Anne Keothavong, who has climbed to No 87 in the world rankings, is the first British woman to gain direct acceptance into the draw for 10 years and has a good chance of making progress. The 24-year-old Londoner today faces Alexa Glatch, an 18-year-old qualifier from California ranked No 254 in the world.