The final Grand Slam of the 2012 tennis season gets under way on Monday afternoon and Scotland’s Andy Murray, fresh from his Olympic gold at Wimbledon, arrives in New York with his best chance yet of claiming a major title.
The US Open has always been Murray’s favourite Grand Slam tournament, writes Martin Owens.
It’s where he reached his first major final as a 21-year-old in 2008. He prefers the relaxed atmosphere in New York compared to the extreme pressure faced at Wimbledon each year and, most importantly, the surface suits his game down to a tee.
The importance of Murray’s Olympic gold medal win and the momentum it has given him cannot be ignored.
While many are downplaying Murray’s achievement and questioning the significance of the Olympics in the tennis calendar, defeating both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer back-to-back in straight sets is no mean feat and has certainly grabbed the attention of both players heading into the Big Apple.
Murray’s Olympic momentum and US Open preparation was hampered slightly with a minor knee injury sustained at the Toronto Masters as he made the transition from the grass courts of Wimbledon to the hard courts of America.
Murray then suffered his second pre-tournament setback a week later as he crashed out of the Cincinnati Masters in straight sets to Frenchman Jeremy Chardy.
However, the problem with Murray’s knee was down to the surface changes and should not be a problem in New York. And while the loss in Cincinnati was disappointing at the time, it will not have any significance in deciding who claims the last major of the season.
In early June, Murray was defeated in the second round of the Wimbledon warm-up tournament at the Queen’s club to another unfancied Frenchman, Nicholas Mahut, before becoming the first British man to reach a Wimbledon final in the open era.
While a surprise defeat and an injury, no matter how minor, is not ideal heading into a Grand Slam tournament, the momentum and confidence gained from reaching a first Wimbledon final and winning Olympic gold in the space of four weeks will be priceless as Murray begins his US Open campaign against world number 73 Alex Bogomolov Jr.
In Murray’s half of the draw for the first time in Grand Slam tennis and his likely semi-final opponent should both players progress that far, is world number one and five-time US Open champion Roger Federer.
Despite the fact that the Swiss great could only manage Olympic silver, this has been at the age of 31, one of his greatest seasons on the ATP tour.
His success at Wimbledon in June was his first Grand Slam title in almost two years and propelled him back to the top of the men’s rankings – equalling Pete Sampras’ record of 287 weeks at world number one.
Federer is once again the dominant force in tennis and is, deservedly, the favourite to claim a sixth US Open title and expand his Grand Slam collection to 18.
In the opposite side of the draw to Murray and Federer is world number two and defending champion Novak Djokovic.
The Serb has been handed the easiest draw of the top seeds thanks to Rafael Nadal’s absence. However, the 25 year old is currently suffering a crisis of confidence.
Djokovic has only managed to win one title in the last four months – in a tournament where Federer, Nadal and Murray were all absent.
Unsurprisingly, Djokovic has struggled to recreate the magic of 2011 that saw him climb to world number one and claim three of the four Grand Slam titles. This, along with his inconsistent performances of late and his failure to win any medal at the Olympics has raised serious questions about his ability to successfully defend his title.
In just three days time in the city that never sleeps, the biggest and most electrifying tournament in tennis will begin.
And British sports fans will be hoping that, come 9 September in front of 22,500 fans in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Andy Murray will be adding a Grand Slam title to what has already been an incredible summer of sporting achievement.
Projected route to final:
Round one – Alex Bogomolov Jr
Round two – Ivan Dodig
Round three – Feliciano Lopez
Round four – Milos Raonic
Quarter-final – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Semi-final – Roger Federer
Final – Novak Djokovic
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