As Andy Murray starts a Grand Slam as defending champion for the first time, everybody ask the experts how he will fare.
This time last year, Andy Murray was on a post-Olympic high as he embarked on another bid to get over the Grand Slam finish line. Going into the US Open as number three seed, Murray faced defending champion Novak Djokovic in the final. After a tumultuous match that lasted four hours and
54 minutes, he had his name in the history books as the first British man in 76 years to be a Grand Slam singles champion.
Having doubled his tally in sensational fashion at Wimbledon last month, Murray arrives at the 2013 US Open with the nation’s expectations raised higher than ever. But sport psychologist Rebecca Symes, owner of consultancy sporting-success.com, says that far from feeling the heat, the British number one will relish his opportunity. “He’ll go into the tournament full of confidence – it will give him a boost knowing he’s been there and done that,” she says.
“And he’s going into it having achieved what he had been trying to achieve for some time. It’s only going to make him stronger than he’s ever been before, really.”
Murray will, however, be presented with a situation new to him at one of the sport’s four majors, and that’s something six-time Grand Slam winner Boris Becker says will take some getting used to. “It’s a different challenge for him,” he says. “It used to be Andy going into a tournament trying to win his first Slam. There is a different type of pressure when you have to defend instead of hunt. Suddenly, you are the hunted one –your scalp is the one everybody wants.” Double the pleasure Becker’s own first defence saw him arrive at Wimbledon in 1986, having won no further majors in the 12 months since his debut Slam. “Everybody questioned me,” he explains. “I was 18 years old and, before me, nobody had won anything at 17. So the question was always was I just lucky? Was it my 15 minutes of fame, or was I actually good?”
Murray at least has that Wimbledon title to assure himself that he’s no one-Slam wonder. “There was so much pressure for him to win Wimbledon,” says Symes. “Now he’s achieved it, there will be an element of relief as much as anything. It’s true across many sports, that when people achieve something they’ve wanted to for so long it can release a lot of pressure – which means they can kick on.
“With some players, at certain stages in their careers, they can get to a point where they think: ‘I’ve achieved everything I wanted. Why am I still doing this?’ But with Murray, I think his motivation is stronger than ever. It’s true of a lot of top athletes that, even when they reach that one milestone that they’ve been aiming for, it feeds their desire. It’s a bit like a drug, in a way. Once you get a bit of it, you want more and more of it to keep up that level of confidence and energy.”
Murray will not, says Symes, be swept up in all the pre-tournament chatter.
“He’ll still be very focused around his own game plan and what he’s going to do in each match, rather than getting caught up in what the overall outcome might be,” she explains. “He has to think about it in terms of getting through each point, each game and each set.”
Becker agrees, pointing to the fact Murray hasn’t been at his best in the tournaments leading up to the US Open in Montreal and Cincinnati – a rough patch that has seen him lose his number two ranking to Rafael Nadal.
“The first couple of rounds will be important for him to build up his form and
confidence again, so that in the second week he’s able to play his best tennis,” he says. “But he should not be expecting to defend his title, because that’s the wrong approach to Grand Slams. You have to go in there humble, do what you’re supposed to do and hopefully hit form in the final weekend. Nobody expects to win a Slam entering the first round.”