A new Andy Murray was unveiled here in the first round of the US Open on Monday night. The scowling Scot who spent much of his matches admonishing himself and others – the comments were usually made in the general direction of his coach, Brad Gilbert – had gone. In his place was a young man focused on the task in hand and determined to enjoy his tennis.
The influence of Roberto Forzoni, who began working with Murray earlier this month and flew here to watch his 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 victory over Pablo Cuevas, is evident. A sports psychologist who helped West Ham United's players escape relegation from the Premiership last season, Forzoni encouraged Murray to think positively about his recovery from the wrist injury that wrecked his summer plans.
Having been reluctant to unleash his forehands for fear of causing further damage to the tendons in his racket wrist, Murray rediscovered his confidence, particularly after hitting a glorious running winner midway through the first set.
"That's the first time I'd really hit out 100 per cent on my forehand," he said afterwards. "It's easy during practice, when the ball's straight to you, but when you're on the run it's a reaction. It's completely different. After that I felt much more confident hitting out on it."
Forzoni appears to have helped Murray take a more positive approach to his whole game. The Scot has long recognised that he needed to address his demeanour on court – "maybe I speak a little bit too much and got a little bit negative," he admitted after his defeat to Nikolay Davydenko here 12 months ago – and against Cuevas he looked more at ease with himself. Most departments of his game, and particularly his first serve, looked in good shape
"I think I've learned to appreciate playing tennis again," he said. "I was getting angry on court about things that weren't really necessary. I was playing great tennis this year and still wasn't really that happy when I was playing. If you look at videos of my matches, at Wimbledon 2005 or when I played here that year, my attitude and body language were excellent.
"Over the last year it's not been as good. I've been showing more negative signs than I have positive. I've learned just to enjoy playing again because I missed such a big chunk of this year. I can play great tennis, and I should enjoy it more."
In his first comeback matches, in Montreal and Cincinnati earlier this month, Murray was still concerned about his wrist. "I wasn't able to dictate points and do the things I normally can on the court," he said. "Now that I can do that again, I'm just happy to be able to play like that. I think the way that I play should be fun for people to watch and for myself because it's a bit different.
"I should be trying to annoy my opponents by the way I play rather than getting annoyed with the way I'm playing myself. That's what I tried to do today. He got pretty frustrated in the end."
Murray added: "I got to a stage where I was almost trying to play too well. For example I was getting annoyed when I was beating [Juan Ignacio] Chela in Australia when I was two sets and a break up, yet the year before I was losing to that guy in straight sets. I've had to look at myself and say: 'What's the point? I'm playing great'."
The period when Murray said he had become too self-critical coincides largely with Gilbert's appointment and the British No 1's comments may be interpreted in some quarters as evidence of a divide with his coach, particularly given Forzoni's influence. Gilbert was said to have been unhappy that Murray returned to Britain before the US Open and last week the American voiced his frustrations at the Scot's reluctance to test his wrist.
Murray, nevertheless, has always appreciated Gilbert's ability to assess future opponents and will need the right game plan against Jonas Bjorkman in the second round. The 35-year-old Swede is the oldest player competing regularly in singles on the ATP tour but is remarkably fit. His No 55 world ranking, particularly given the fact that he is still one of the game's most successful doubles players, underlines his continuing excellence.
Bjorkman said he was a great admirer of Murray. "Some players just go out and hit the ball as hard as possible and there are no thoughts and plans on how to win the point," he said. "Andy and Novak Djokovic are two players I love to watch because they are trying to find a way. If it's not working one way, they are trying to find another way to win the points."Reuse content