For years Roger Federer has returned to the four grand slam tournaments with the regal swagger that only confident kings know but which lately seems less steady in the gait.
For Andy Murray, however, coming back to the scene of a major triumph is a new experience. Where previously he would arrive unsure of himself, conscious of past disappointments, he will go to New York at the weekend with that unique frisson of owning the crown, the US Open he annexed on a magical windy night a year ago. Being a champion suits him, although the nerves linger.
While Federer is still reaching back into his past to make the future more palatable – he has abandoned his experiment with the new Wilson 98 in favour of his trusty old sword, the 90 – Murray is content not only with his racket but also his game and his peace of mind.
On Wednesday, he looked in excellent shape during a switched-on performance to beat Mikhail Youzhny for the fourth time in as many matches, 6-2, 6-3, with plenty to spare, and move into the third round of the Cincinnati Open, a tournament he has won twice in nine visits. Against the man who on Tuesday beat his Montreal conqueror, Ernests Gulbis, Murray did little wrong and a lot right.
While he chided himself for a couple of missed volleys, all other aspects of his tennis clicked sweetly, from his serve to his defence, his movement sideways and in hunting down the Russian's sharp chips and drop shots. He also hit the ball as cleanly as he did at Wimbledon – another place he will have the pleasure of revisiting as the lord of the manor.
As for the reception he might receive in New York, Murray said: "I hope it's a good one. In terms of how I'll feel when I'm going out there, I don't know how I'll respond but, obviously, a lot's happened since New York last year. Ever since I played there the first time when I was 18, when I used to play on the Grandstand Court, there was always a great atmosphere in my matches." And as for the proposed new roof on the Arthur Ashe Court – scene of a players' revolt two years ago, when they were asked to play on a plainly dangerous and wet surface – Murray gave his qualified approval. "For TV and stuff it's fantastic because it's always good that you know matches are going to get finished. I don't particularly like going from indoors to outdoors to indoors. It's tough but it's good for the fans."
Murray denied losing to Gulbis in the Rogers Cup had caught him in a Wimbledon hangover. "I prepared well for the tournament in Canada," he said. "I just took a longer break than usual, so it was going to take a bit more time to feel great again. Rafa [Nadal] lost early at Wimbledon, so he took his break a bit earlier. I need to be patient, trust that I did the right thing by taking some extra time off, and I hope by the time the US Open comes around I'll be better off it and my game will be at its peak."
Next up is Julien Benneteau. "I played him last in Monte Carlo and I've played him here as well, when I was down a set and a break and managed to come back [in the quarter-finals four years ago]. He does everything well, he is a solid mover and a very good doubles player. He has made it tough for a lot of top players before."
On the other side of the draw, the world No1 Novak Djokovic stuttered before seeing off Juan Monaco (who has never beaten him) 7-5, 6-2. "It was a good performance for an opening round," Djokovic said. "I knew I was going to have to work hard but I served well when I needed to."
Also smiling with full conviction was Serena Williams, who squeaked past the young Canadian qualifier Eugenie Bouchard (of whom Murray says he expects great things) in three sets. There were worryingly too many moments when the American's head dropped in despair in the first set, as Bouchard passed her again and again, left and right, short and long, with shots of exquisite precision and thumping power. Ultimately, the big Williams serve kicked in to restore order, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Ian Dick