New York: Andy Murray strolled into the US National Tennis Center on Saturday without a care in the world, brimming with confidence and self-belief as he prepares to defend his US Open title.
In 2012, Murray arrived in New York still searching for his first Grand Slam title. He had won the Olympic gold medal but the Grand Slams had eluded him. That all changed under the bright lights of New York when he defeated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a nerve-tingling five-setter, to end his own drought and become the first British man in 76 years to win the US Open.
Returning this year as the defending champion has rekindled those memories. “I was so relieved that night that maybe I didn’t have the chance to maybe enjoy it maybe as much as Wimbledon or the Olympics, for example,” he said.
With the weight of expectation lifted from his shoulders, Murray holds no fears about trying to defend his title at Flushing Meadows.
“There was a lot of pressure on me for a lot of years to win a Grand Slam, and then same sort of thing at Wimbledon. I wouldn't imagine it would be the same here.”
A day after giving a speech at the United Nations, Novak Djokovic was back in more familiar surroundings on Saturday, signing autographs and fine-tuning his preparations for the US Open.
The world No. 1 addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Friday as part of the declaration for an International Day of Sport for Development and Peace next year. “The speech at U.N. yesterday was also something quite incredible for me,” he said.
Djokovic has played in each of the last three US Open finals, winning the title in 2011, and remains among the favourites this year despite mixed results this season.
He won his third successive Australian Open in January, and made the final at Wimbledon, losing to Andy Murray, who also beat him in last year’s US Open final.
At 26 and with six Grand Slam titles already under his belt, Djokovic is at the peak of his powers and showing no signs of slowing down or waning interest. “I feel that I’m in my prime in my tennis career and I really want to keep on playing tennis at this level hopefully for years to come,” said Djokovic, who plays Lithuania's Ricardas Berankis in the first round.
If history and current form are any guide, only five men -- Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro - have any real chance of wearing the hardcourt crown.
Since the 2005 French Open, only five men have won Grand Slam singles titles but rarely have all five been in contention at the same event. But this time they are. In the past five years, there have been five different winners at Flushing Meadows.
For Federer, who won the title five times in a row from 2004-2008, it is possibly one of his last chances to prove he is not a spent force. The Swiss master may be the most prolific Grand Slam winner of all time but he has struggled in recent years, winning just one of the last 14 majors.
Federer is seeded seventh this year and facing a treacherous path to the final, including a possible quarter-final showdown with his old nemesis Nadal. The Spaniard won the U.S. Open in 2010 to complete his collection of Grand Slam titles, but the effort took a toll on his body.
Serena Williams may be the overwhelming favourite but the world No. 1 is anything but a sure bet to win a US Open overflowing with intriguing possibilities. As the greatest player of her generation, Williams is the obvious choice to win the women’s singles tournament, but faces challenges on several fronts including the calendar.
If she wins, the 31-year-old American will be the oldest woman champion since tennis turned professional in 1968 but time has not caught up with Williams just yet. “I’m definitely prepared. I’m definitely ready for New York. I’m looking forward to it,” she said.
Williams and Victoria Azarenka are seeded one and two and are drawn to meet in the final, just as they did last year. The 24-year-old Azarenka won her second consecutive Australian Open this year and is perfectly suited to the unforgiving hardcourts at Flushing Meadows.
Australia’s Sam Stosur won the US Open two years ago, upsetting Williams in the final, and won in California earlier this month.
Although she is yet to win a major, Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska has been a model of consistency. A finalist at Wimbledon last year, she made the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and the French Open this season and the semi-final at Wimbledon. China’s Li Na has also been in great form this season, reaching the final in Australia and the last eight at Wimbledon.