The US Open: Andy Murray's first Grand Slam title?

After his Olympic title, the time may have come for the British No 1 to claim a first Grand Slam. Paul Newman talks to his coach, Ivan Lendl, as they get set for the US Open

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The Independent Online

The US Open, which begins on Monday, is not to everyone's liking. Travelling to Flushing Meadows along gridlocked roads from Manhattan, where most players stay, is not the ideal way to start your day. The weather can be hot and humid, while the on-court distractions range from low- flying aircraft arriving at La Guardia airport to the hubbub created by the most restless crowd in tennis.

Andy Murray, nevertheless, has always loved New York. He won his only Grand Slam junior title here in 2004 and reached his first senior Grand Slam final here four years later. Three finals on, the 25-year-old Scot is still waiting to make his ultimate breakthrough, but after winning Olympic gold earlier this month there is renewed confidence that he can end Britain's 76-year wait for a Grand Slam men's singles champion.

Much of that belief stems from Murray's increasingly productive association with his coach, Ivan Lendl, who knows better than anybody what it takes to recover from repeated disappointments, having won eight Grand Slam titles after losing his first four finals.

Lendl also knows all about winning in New York. The former world No 1 had a stunning US Open record, reaching the final eight years in succession between 1982 and 1989 and winning three times. Nevertheless, as Lendl sat in the players' garden yesterday morning and looked ahead to the next fortnight, he admitted that Flushing Meadows has changed a lot since his playing days. Arthur Ashe Stadium, the cavernous 23,000-capacity main show court, was opened in 1997, three years after Lendl's last appearance.

"This means nothing to me," Lendl said, pointing towards the building towering in front of him. "I played with Andy on Arthur Ashe the other day. I said: 'Nice court, nice court to play on.' It wasn't here when I played. I played next door. It was half the size."

The stressful environment, however, is much as it was in Lendl's day. He used to spend as little time on site as possible. He lived just 35 minutes away and had a court built at his home that was identical to the tournament playing surface.

"I had the same crew which did the Centre Court," Lendl said. "They were at my house, doing my court, resurfacing it every year, so I didn't have to come here for practices. So out of the 14 days, I was here just seven times, unless I had an interrupted match. That was a great help, because it's very taxing physically and mentally to be here.

"You can just enjoy being at home and practise whenever you want to. You're not relying on time, you finish, you lie down, jump in the pool and play with your dogs, have lunch on the table, take a nap, go and play golf, whatever you want to do. You're not relying on anybody's schedules, just your own."

Lendl has encouraged Murray to prepare for Grand Slam tournaments in similar fashion. At this year's Australian Open, for example, they often practised at the tournament's former home at Kooyong rather than at Melbourne Park.

"We didn't have to be there on the minute or somebody would kick us off the court in an hour," Lendl said. "Food was there, they let us use the trainers' room and you're just on your own and can be at your leisure. You don't have to stress about anything. I think there is enough stress on the match days."

What makes the conditions in New York particularly tough? "I think the conditions are tough at every tournament and every Grand Slam. It's you guys [the media] and friends and agents and everybody. When you don't have to deal with it half the time, you're just better off. You're just fresh mentally."

Winning here, towards the end of a gruelling season, means playing seven best-of-five-set matches in physically draining conditions. This summer, with the Olympics added to the schedule, has been particularly demanding.Murray and Novak Djokovic were the only players in the top six who competed in the Masters Series tournaments at Toronto and Cincinnati after the Olympics. Murray played only one match at the former before pulling out with a sore knee.

"I think you have to be fresh physically and mentally," Lendl said when asked about the importance of keeping plenty in the tank for the year's final Grand Slam tournament.

Nine months into his coaching role, Lendl admits that his golf has suffered and that there have been pluses and minuses in the changes to his lifestyle. "There are times when I enjoy it and there are times when I don't," he said. "There are places we went and if the tournament would be somewhere else I would be happier. It has nothing to do with Andy, obviously. There are tournaments I had to go to when I played and I didn't like. Things haven't changed much."

Is Lendl as calm inside as he appears on the outside during Murray's matches? "Most of the time," he said. "Many times I see what's happening and I have a pretty good idea what the outcome will be."

How quickly is he able to assess how a match is going to finish? "Many times you know before how the player feels and how he is looking. But usually after half a set, three-quarters of a set, we have a very good idea."

Asked to compare his relationship with Murray with the one he enjoyed with his own coach, Tony Roche, Lendl said: "I don't think it's possible to get in seven months where we got in 10 years.

"On the other hand, we spend more weeks together than Tony and I spent, because we were just doing two weeks before the Grand Slams and every now and then something on the side. But I'm pretty sure that if we keep working together then we're going to get there."

Does Lendl think of himself as a Ferguson, a Mourinho or a Wenger? "I just started this year and they have been in it for decades, but thank you," Lendl laughed. "I don't look at it that way. Obviously I have some ideas, I have some things I like to work on, but I would like to think that I am flexible enough to adjust on a daily basis depending on what is happening.

"That would be ideal. That's my goal. Whether I am there or not, I don't know."

Djokovic in top form for his title defence

After his annus mirabilis last year, 2012 has not been as productive for Novak Djokovic, but the 25-year-old Serb is in confident mood as he prepares to begin the defence of his US Open title.

After losing in the semi-finals at both Wimbledon and the Olympics, Djokovic has hit good form during the North American hard-court season, which is usually one of his most productive periods of the year.

"I'm trying not to compare my performances this year with 2011, but I have had a very good start to the hard-court season again, winning in Canada and reaching the final in Cincinnati," Djokovic said. "My body feels good and right now I am healthy and fit. I'm really happy to be back here, where I have great memories and I am playing well."

No other player can match Djokovic's recent consistency at Grand Slam level. The world No.2 has reached the semi-finals of the last nine events, winning four of them. He also won the last three Grand Slam tournaments played on hard courts – the Australian Opens of 2011 and 2012 and last year's US Open.

The draw for this year's competition, which begins on Monday, has been kind to the Serb. Rafael Nadal, last year's beaten finalist, is absent through injury and Djokovic cannot meet Andy Murray, who beat him in the semi-finals of the Olympic tournament, or Roger Federer, who knocked him out at the same stage of Wimbledon, until the final. The highest ranked player Djokovic can face before the final is David Ferrer, the world No.5.

Britain's Johanna Konta was last night attempting to win a place in the main draw in New York for the first time. Konta, who was born in Australia but became a British citizen earlier this year, won her first two matches in qualifying and was due to meet China's Zhang Shuai in the final round.

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