NEW YORK: Andy Murray admits he’s playing his best ever tennis as he looks to capitalise on the growing frailties of his rivals and captures a second U.S. Open title.
Ahead of Monday’s start to the season’s final Grand Slam, the 29-year-old is the sport’s man of the moment.
Since losing the French Open final to Novak Djokovic in June, Murray has won Queen’s Club, a second Wimbledon title and successfully defended his Olympic crown in Rio.
His career-best 22-match win streak came to a halt at the hands of Marin Cilic in the Cincinnati final last weekend when he simply ran out of gas.
But that hasn’t dented his confidence that he can claim a second US Open, four years after his breakthrough in New York saw him become the first British man in 76 years to win a Grand Slam title.
At 29, three-time major winner Murray admits he is taking positives from being in the twilight of his career.
“You have to make the most of every opportunity. It’s a slightly different mentality to maybe when you’re younger and you feel like you have a bit more time on your side,” said Murray.
Murray has played in all of the first three finals of the majors in 2016, losing to world number one Djokovic in Melbourne and Paris before defeating Milos Raonic in straight sets in the Wimbledon final.
The only worry for Murray is his relatively mediocre recent record in New York — runs to the quarter-finals in 2013 and 2014 were followed by a fourth-round exit to Kevin Anderson 12 months ago.
Murray starts his campaign against fiery Lukas Rosol. The last time they met in Munich in 2015, the Scot described the Czech as the most-hated man in the sport.
Murray’s consistency on the tour in recent weeks is in stark contrast to the rollercoaster fortunes of Djokovic, the defending champion in New York.
After he won a maiden French Open to complete the career Grand Slam, all talk was of the Serb going on to defend his Wimbledon and US Open titles and clinch a calendar Grand Slam.
That’s a feat so rare that only two men have ever achieved it with Rod Laver the most recent in 1969.
The expectations proved too heavy a burden when the 12-time major winner was dumped out of Wimbledon in the third round for his earliest loss at a major in seven years.
Although he then won a record 30th Masters trophy in Toronto, a shock first-round defeat at the Olympics to Juan Martin del Potro and a withdrawal from Cincinnati with a wrist injury suggested all is not well with the 2011 and 2015 US Open winner.
“I am not 100 per cent. Hopefully on Monday, when it all starts, I will be there,” said Djokovic who faces big-serving Jerzy Janowicz of Poland in his opener.
“The wrist has not been ideal for three weeks. There are different methods of healing. One involved electricity treatment to enhance the recovery process.”
Outside of the top two, five-time champion Roger Federer, who has played every US Open since 2000, called time on his season after a five-set semi-final defeat to Raonic at Wimbledon. The 35-year-old aggravated a knee injury in that loss.
Fellow old-stager Rafael Nadal, the 2010 and 2013 US Open champion, won gold in doubles at the Rio Olympics but lost the singles bronze medal play-off to Kei Nishikori.
The Games were his first outing since an injury-enforced early withdrawal from the French Open and the punishing schedule of 13 matches in 12 days in Brazil and then Cincinnati caught up with him when he lost in the third round in the American city.
Nadal tackles Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan first up.
Other contenders are likely to be world number three Stan Wawrinka, a two-time semi-finalist, sixth-ranked Raonic, who has yet to get past the last 16, and world number seven Kei Nishikori, the 2014 runner-up.