Most see the US trophy in the hands of one of the top four men, and most, if pushed, give Novak Djokovic the nod. Yet McEnroe firmly plumped for the one of the quartet who has yet to win a Slam: Andy Murray.
His assertion was delivered with a smiling growl that only McEnroe seems able to pull off and came across as a challenge, a throwing down of the gauntlet, than as a tip for the title: “The hungriest man in the draw should be Murray. I think this is his best shot to win one.”
Whether Murray is the hungriest merely because he has yet to win a Slam is a moot point.
Djokovic has come so close to this prize so many times that it must feel like an open wound.
Nadal, losing one title after another to Djokovic this year, must feel the Serb as a thorn in his side – one that only winning in New York can remove.
And Federer, well his most effective retort to the continuing stream of questions about his age would be a sixth US title, his first Slam since Australia 2010.
Murray, for all that, certainly is hungry for his first major. He has drunk from the bitter runners-up cup three times already, most recently this year in Australia, and to win in New York would taste especially sweet.
He is a big fan of the city, of the tournament and of the buzz he gets from playing on Arthur Ashe. He also reached his first Grand Slam final here in 2008 and was junior champion in 2004. Yes, this one would be very sweet, and McEnroe is right to highlight Murray’s chances.
For this year, Murray’s US Open Series has been more streamlined than last to ensure he does not overplay or peak before the New York fortnight is done.
He dropped Washington, where he was a finalist last year, and although that made him slow off the mark in his first hard-court tournament in Montreal, he improved strongly through the Cincinnati Masters in a reverse of his results last year.
Instead of winning in Canada, as he did in 2010, Murray won the second tournament, and will ride that wave into what appears to be a decent first-week draw in New York.
But Murray is clearly ill at ease with being anyone’s favourite at this stage of proceedings. In a long and relaxed press conference—the last one at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre before they battened down the hatches against Hurricane Irene—he chatted about practice, queuing for groceries, his love of New York and the need for covers for the Flushing Meadows courts.
Only when confronted by the McEnroe comment did he bristle: “It’s a silly thing to say, because it’s not one tournament.
“It will be Federer is not playing well, and Rafa is struggling, and Djokovic’s shoulder is sore. But I know, come Monday, they’ll all be fine. I have a chance of winning for sure. Whether it’s my best chance or not, no one has a clue like that.”
He then spoke at length about the turn-around his friend, Djokovic, has made this season.
“He was winning matches very comfortably. He’s always been capable of doing that, but I think this year his consistency has been incredible. I think he’s always been right up at the top of the game for the last four or five years.”
As well as extraordinary consistency, and the confidence that comes from winning, Murray added that he had also seen physical improvements in Djokovic.
“I think he’s looking better physically. Even here last year in the first round when it was really hot and humid, he was struggling, and I think that’s something that he’s got better at dealing with.”
Djokovic made some significant changes to his diet at the end of last season after it became apparent that some of his physical difficulties were caused by an intolerance to gluten. Interesting, then, that Murray has now made adjustments to his diet, too, with similarly beneficial effects.
The major change has been to remove cow’s milk and the various derivative protein bars and drinks that formed part of Murray’s regime. Now it’s soya milk, more fish and vegetables and less pasta and steak.
“Now I know how I feel, I wish I had been doing it longer,” he said. “I wake up at seven in the morning now and feel great. Before I would wake up at like nine-thirty and feel terrible – stiff, sore and tired – and now I just feel much fresher and feel good.”
All of which puts McEnroe’s assertion that Murray is the hungriest man in the draw into a rather different light.
Because if the man who is inspired by playing in New York is now also feeling good every morning instead of terrible, maybe everything is indeed in place for Murray to take his first bite in the Big Apple.
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news