Murray already flushed with success as US Open takes off

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
andy murray
(Photo: Rahul Saligram and Gayatri Ramnath)

andy murray

Andy Murray has had an eventful few weeks in North America. First he ditched his coach and went on to reach the final of his first tournament—Los Angeles—since Wimbledon. Then he flowered in August with his first title of the year: a Masters, no less, in Toronto.

And now he arrives at the season-ending Slam in New York with the 2010 Olympus US Open Series title.

This marks Murray’s first USO Series title after finishing second in each of the last two years. Although equal in points with Roger Federer, he sealed top spot by virtue of their head-to-head in the Series.

This is a unique competition in the tennis year that links together the hard-court events leading to the US Open. The reward is a chance for a big bonus: an extra million dollars should Murray win the Open.

But at this stage, it’s not the money that’s important, but the players’ form on the way to the end-of-summer climax, and Murray has been one of the best performers. He demonstrated in his Toronto win—where he beat both Rafael Nadal and Federer—that he has upped his aggressive game. He has been a runner-up at Flushing Meadows, losing to Federer in 2008, and was runner-up to the same man in Melbourne this year. He looks just about ready to take the winner’s podium.

Top of the pile of challengers, and aiming to become the youngest man to get a career Slam if he wins his first US title, is Nadal. He has a tour-leading five ATP titles this year already, including the last two Slams, and is in better shape at this stage of the season than ever before. Bearing in mind he has reached the semis in New York for the last two years, this could be his best chance yet.

Novak Djokovic, No2 in the world until Federer’s win in Cincinnati, has nevertheless not had the best of seasons. His record in New York is good, though, reaching the semis last year and the finals in 2007. He pushed Federer very close in the semis in Toronto and, if the draw for the Open pans out, he will meet the same man in the semis in New York.

Five-time US champion, Federer, is running into form particularly well. On his return to the tour after an unexpected quarter-final exit at Wimbledon, he has reached the finals of both Masters events, winning in Cincinnati last week. He has also tied up with Pete Sampras’ former coach, Paul Annacone, and is already playing a more aggressive, attacking game.

Federer had a 40-match-winning streak at the Open until his loss in last year’s final to Juan Martin del Potro, who is unable to defend his title this year due his continuing wrist injury. The Swiss maestro is now attempting to be the first man in the Open era to win the title six times and to match Ivan Lendl as the only man to reach seven consecutive finals.

Annacone is courtside for Federer’s US preparations, and the draw has thrown up some interesting challenges for the partnership.

If neither Federer nor Djokovic make the semis, and Murray doesn’t reach the final, the No5 seed, Soderling, could overtake all three by winning the title.

In the quarters, he could face the man who beat him in the French quarter-finals, Robin Soderling. Beyond that, in the semis, Federer could meet Nikolay Davydenko, who beat him twice in a row before his long break from action with a fractured wrist.

In the final awaits an assortment of men who have all beaten Federer this year: Murray, Tomas Berdych, Ernests Gulbis or, of course, Nadal. Added to that, Federer has the possibility of facing every other man in the competition who has won a Grand Slam before. In addition to Nadal, those are Juan Carlos Ferrero in the fourth round, and either Djokovic or Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals.

Federer will need to beat all of them to keep his No2 ranking. If Djokovic reaches the final and Federer does not, Djokovic will reclaim No2. If either Djokovic or Murray wins the title, either can become No2.

And one more interesting consideration: if neither Federer nor Djokovic make the semis, and Murray doesn’t reach the final, the No5 seed, Soderling, could overtake all three by winning the title. Only Nadal is secure at the top.

So looking beyond the top five, who are the dark horses? A good indicator is that US Open Series ranking.

Mardy Fish took third place after a fine summer of great all-court tennis. He won in Newport and Atlanta, and was runner-up in the Cincinnati Masters. He sits in the Djokovic quarter—the Federer half—of the draw, but one of the best face-offs could be his third-round match against Marcos Baghdatis, the fourth man in the US series rankings.

The Cypriot was a finalist in Washington and a semi-finalist in the Cincinnati Masters, and he now sits 100 places higher than a year ago.

Another man enjoying a great return from extended injury is David Nalbandian, fifth in the US Series, winner in Washington, and quarter-finalist in Toronto.

He faces one of the most vulnerable of the top seeds in the third round, Fernando Verdasco. He could then play the winner from David Ferrer or Ernests Gulbis—another standout third round match. On the horizon is a Nalbandian/Nadal quarter-final, and the Argentine has shown before that he is one of the few men with the game to counter the top seed.

Nadal gets underway on Tuesday, and will not be looking that far ahead. His first match should be a pushover, but he will treat it like every other: 100 per cent.

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