Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! With the US Open set to start on Monday, we ask writers Matt Blake and Oliver Pickup if Andy Murray can cap his sensational summer – which included winning Wimbledon and Olympic gold – with a fourth Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows.
YES! He’s on a roll
“Since May he’s won the Rome Masters, Queen’s, Wimbledon and Olympic gold; it’s his to lose” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
He's in the form of his life
Murray has just come to the end of a 22-match unbeaten streak – the longest of his career – by losing the Cincinnati Masters final last weekend. But, given his recent form, that’s hardly a crisis; it’s barely a snafu. Since May, he’s won the Rome Masters, Queen’s, Wimbledon and Olympic gold, not to mention reaching his first French Open final this June (he lost to Novak Djokovic). In short, the Scotsman is flying. It's his to lose.
The others are waning
Murray is blossoming just as his main rivals appear to be wilting. Yes, Rafa scavenged a gold medal in the doubles in Rio, but he crashed out of the Games' singles tournament against Juan Martín del Potro – a player ranked 141st in the world. Nadal then bombed in Cincinnati, losing to rising star Borna Ćorić. Roger Federer's sitting out the US Open to protect a surgically repaired knee. Djokovic crumpled in the third round of Wimbledon, and the first at Rio. He didn’t even go to Cincinnati because of a sore wrist. Murray, on the other hand, looks as strong as a Highland heifer in a gale.
Ivan Lendl is driving him forward
Murray doesn't need a tennis lesson. He's already really good. At his level, the gossamer-thin line between winning and losing isn't about how you play, but about how you think. It's chess with two pieces. And his coach, Ivan Lendl, is the grandmaster of mind control with fluffy balls. He doesn't teach tennis, he teaches victory. It’s the psychological edge that seemed missing from Murray’s game until Lendl returned to his side in June. Now he has it back, he’s capable of anything.
He's won it before
It's a well-known fact that a burglar is more likely to successfully ransack a house he's already robbed. He knows the layout. He knows the security. He knows where you keep the family silver. And when it comes to the US Open, Murray's got previous. In beating Novak Djokovic to win the US Open in 2012, he learned what it takes to win at Flushing Meadows. Yes, the same can be said for the Serb; he’s won it twice himself. But winning it before removes the psychological burden of unfamiliarity for Murray. Given that, plus his form, his coach and paucity of competition, not winning silverware in New York would be criminal.
He’s got the drive
Murray’s grown from gangly, racket-smashing teen to tennis wizard, all pumping fists and hurling sweatbands into crowds. It’s naked ambition that’s made him who he is – a giant of the court now approaching full-blown national icon status. But he’s still never been number one in the world rankings. Murray has reached all three Grand Slam finals so far this year, losing to Djokovic at the Australian and French Opens. Having already conquered Wimbledon, the US Open would make it two apiece. Murray needs this if he’s to climb the final few steps to World No 1. He’ll probably still need to win the ATP World Tour Finals, but he’s closing in. And, by Fred Perry’s ghost, he wants it!
Agree with Matt?
NO! He’s out of steam
“He’s had no time to recover. Even machines – and Murray is a machine – need rebooting” – Oliver Pickup, sports writer, Telegraph Sport
Purple patch loses its sheen
OK, so Andy Murray is enjoying a sensational summer on the tennis court. However, given the proper context, his achievements are considerably less impressive. At Queen’s, for instance, his great rival Novak Djokovic – who is still ranked No 1 by some margin – didn’t play. Then, the Serbian crashed out of both Wimbledon and the Olympics early on, meaning Murray didn’t even have to face his nemesis. Those early tumbles can only have galvanised Djokovic to get back to his winning ways.
That Olympic glory is tainted
With no world-ranking points on offer in Rio, many stars viewed the Games as a waste of their time. Top Ten players Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych didn’t go, citing fears over the Zika virus, while American Sam Querrey, Djokovic’s conqueror at Wimbledon earlier this summer, summed things up when he said that the Olympics, “just wasn’t a priority of mine at all”. Little surprise that Murray was able to cruise to the final, and that his ultimate opponent, gutsy Argentine Juan Martín del Potro, is currently ranked so low that he’s had to rely on a wildcard entry to play in the US Open.
Novak knows best
Djokovic was upset at his shock first-round defeat in Rio to Del Potro, and he will be determined to return to form and fitness to defend his US Open title. Don’t forget, the 29-year-old Serbian has won five of the last seven Grand Slams. And of the 34 times he and Murray have faced one another, Djokovic has won 24. Moreover, Murray has not beaten the Serb in a big four event since 2013. This is one of the reasons why Murray has three majors to his name, and his adversary – who is a week younger – has 12.
Murray’s American dream dims
Admittedly, Murray managed to defeat Djokovic in the US Open final four years ago, after the Scot had won the gold medal at the London Olympics, to claim his first major crown. And yet in the 11 years he has competed at Flushing Meadows, Murray has endured a largely miserable time. In the three editions since that 2012 triumph he was felled in the quarter-finals twice, and last year was toppled in the fourth round by big-serving South African Kevin Anderson. He’ll need to improve on his win ratio by some margin if he hopes to take home the top prize.
Nothing lasts forever
It’s one of life’s most chilling truisms: like night follows day, as death follows life, at some point all good things come to an end. And, by the same obvious logic, Murray’s sensational, successful summer will be halted, sooner rather than later. That time is now. With a decent set of results in 2016 behind him, his has become the scalp every other player on the circuit wants to claim. It’s been a tough summer – and fatigue seemed to finally catch up with him when he lost in Cincinnati on Sunday; his batteries were low. Even machines – and Murray is a machine – need rebooting once in a while. And as much as I’d like to see him win in New York, he’s not had time to recover.
Agree with Oliver?
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