Murray's debut set to be captivating sideshow

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The Independent Online

From a British perspective, the year's concluding Grand Slam championships at Flushing Meadows is notable for Andy Murray's debut in a major tournament outside Wimbledon.

The 18-year-old Scot is in the company of Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, two over-30s who, a week tomorrow, will share another birthday. It may not be long before Murray finds himself all but isolated with the British flag.

Ideally, Murray would like to be given time for his talent and physique to mature without being overburdened by expectation. But that is not always possible at the highest level of an individual sport.

"I've grown up reading everything about Tim Henman," Murray said. "I am still in shock that he comes across as a failure because of what he's done and what he's achieved as a tennis player. And when I'm just starting out as an 18-year-old, why is there so much pressure on somebody my age to do so well? It would be better if everybody just calmed down."

That is easier said than done, because a year on from winning the US Open junior title Murray is preparing for his opening match as the youngest British male ever to play in the main draw. His opponent, Andrei Pavel, a 31-year-old Romanian, last entered British consciousness when he was defeated by Henman in the final of the 2003 Paris Masters.

Whatever befalls Murray during the next two weeks, he deserves great credit for getting here the hard way, by winning three qualifying matches in three days last week. Though somewhat miffed with the All England Club for not pressing his claims for a wild card more robustly, Murray acknowledged that qualifying here was his most pleasing performance since reaching the third round at Wimbledon, where he was given a wild card.

"I think qualifying for the US Open as an 18-year-old is a pretty big deal," the Scot said. "I don't think many guys can say that they've done that. I'm getting closer to the top 100, which was my goal at the start of the year. I know everybody thought I was stupid when I said it, but I still think I'm going to do it."

The wild card Murray coveted went to the Australian Mark Philippoussis, a US Open finalist in 1998, whose compatriot, the third-seeded Lleyton Hewitt, said: "In the big picture, I think it's a good thing [for Murray]. He obviously had a lot of hype going into Wimbledon after his Queen's effort, and I think it's a good thing to go back to basics a little bit and win three tough qualifying matches."

Hewitt, a former world No 1 with US Open and Wimbledon titles to his name, added: "From what I saw at Queen's and Wimbledon, he handled the situation pretty well. Obviously there was a small question mark about the physical side, only because in the two matches that he did lose [in London] it was more due to physical exertion than the actual tactical or technique side of tennis.

"He looks like he hits the ball well; he changes pace well; he moves well for a bigger guy. He's got a lot of things going the right way."

In the women's tournament, Sharapova is the top seed despite losing the world No 1 ranking to the American Lindsay Davenport - the No 2 seed - today after only a week at the top.