Andy Murray leaves New York – the scene of his graduation to the highest level of his sport three years ago and now a place to forget for a while – dispirited without being devastated.
He has plenty to look forward to, most immediately the Davis Cup semi-final against Australia in Glasgow that starts on Friday week, even if he would have preferred to be going home with more to show for his efforts than wins of varying conviction and quality over Nick Kyrgios, Adrian Mannarino and Thomaz Bellucci, plus a fourth-round defeat on Monday night by Kevin Anderson in the longest match of the tournament on the court he has good reason to regard as an accident ward, Louis Armstrong.
“That court is a lot quicker than [Arthur Ashe Stadium],” he said after being battered for four hours and 18 minutes by 25 Anderson aces. “I felt like I was on the back foot quite a lot, wasn’t able to play that offensively.”
Had the United States Tennis Association so wished, it might have left the 2012 champion in the more spacious and welcoming environment of its main stadium, Ashe, instead of parking him on the tight secondary venue, where the elements swirl dangerously and where Stan Wawrinka – waiting for Anderson in the quarter-finals – put Murray out in the third round five years ago.
It was also where Murray has suffered since against Marin Cilic, coming back from a set and 5-1 down; Robin Haase, fending off cramp over four sets, and the then 96th-ranked Russian Andrey Kuznetsov, who took a set off him.
For five years Murray had reached the quarter-finals of all 18 grand slam tournaments he entered, going on to win two titles, consistency only bettered in the modern era by Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. It is some achievement. Yet Murray’s disappointment is heightened because of that very success. He expects more of himself than he sometimes produces. When Anderson closed out the match with a perfect tie-break to win 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, the physical suffering stopped but the mental letdown kicked in straight away.
As Murray said: “Many years’ work have gone into building that sort of consistency. To lose that is tough.”
The only reasonable judgment to make was that Murray, fighting his own tennis, was ambushed by a dangerous opponent who, by contrast, was comfortable operating within the confines of his own uncomplicated game for the duration of the longest match of the tournament.
If Murray expected the 6ft 8in South African with the most potent serve of all 16 players left in the draw to struggle with his defensive game over the course of the contest, he was to be surprised at how agile and sharp Anderson was around the court, especially at the net. As the fourth set reached its tense climax, it should have been Anderson feeling the anxiety, given his opponent’s depth of experience in such situations; Murray, after all, has come back from two sets down to win eight times in his career.
Certainly Murray reckoned later that would be the scenario. As he said afterwards, he has been here before – although he spared not a second of his concentration to recall his famous comeback against Cilic on the same court, when he went through.
“No, I wasn’t thinking about any other matches, it was more having the experience of coming back in matches before, fighting to the end. He obviously hasn’t played as many of those matches as I have, so I was trying to use my experience, use the crowd and hopefully get some energy from them as well.”
Suggestions that Murray was spent at the end need closer inspection. He was exhausted, as he would be after giving his all in every point, but, had the match gone to a fifth set, he would have finished strongly. He does not put all that effort in away from the court for the fun of it, and this is his job. For all that modern tennis makes serious physical demands on its participants, they invariably rise to the challenge – and are well paid for their endeavours.
As Murray put it: “It’s four hours and 18 minutes. I’m not a machine. My body hurts. I was just trying to fight my way right through to the end and make it as difficult for him as possible. I’m proud of the way I did that today.”
Now he will rest and prepare for Glasgow, where he is still committed to playing both the singles and the doubles.
“Obviously, I won’t hit any tennis balls for a few days or do any training to let my body rest and recover. Whether I do that here or back home, I don’t know yet. I mean, I might stretch and stuff but I’ll be pretty much horizontal.
“Whatever the captain [Leon Smith] wants, I’ll do. I know how difficult it was against France, playing all three days in a row after Wimbledon. At least now I have some extra days where I can actually take a proper break for three, four days and let myself rest and recover. I didn’t have that luxury after Wimbledon, when I finished on the Friday and was practising again on the Monday. Hopefully I’ll be fine for the doubles and singles.”
If he looks at it in a positive light – not always a given in the past – the Davis Cup gives him the ideal platform on which to rebuild his season. He will be among friends again, away from the singular torment of a grand slam campaign, and, as he showed at Queen’s, where he and his brother, Jamie, beat France on their own, that always brings a smile to his face.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010