It could be the start of the Premier League season, it could be the climax of England’s Ashes victory, but Andy Murray’s quest to retain the US Open he won in such thrilling style last year has gone strangely unnoticed.
The defence of his maiden Grand Slam title has crept up on us, it seems. His 6-4 6-2 6-3 first-round win over Frenchman Michael Llodra only really came to prominence when it was noted that he completed his win at 11.33pm local time on Wednesday evening – unfortunate scheduling which could hamper him later in the tournament.
But why? You would think that we would be chomping at the bit to recollect the glory of last September, when Murray beat Novak Djokovic in five sets to exorcise a 76-year demon in the guise of Fred Perry, Britain’s last men’s singles champion.
Some critics believe that the 26-year-old Scot will struggle to replicate his triumph. After all, he was beaten by Stanislas Wawrinka and Marin Cilic in the 2009 and 2010 tournaments respectively, names that command respect but have reached a grand total of one semi-final at a Grand Slam between them.
Others see a jaded figure who will struggle to replicate the roaring intensity of his Wimbledon triumph this summer. Murray is on course to face the powerful Czech Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals, having lost to him in straight sets in the Cincinnati Open less than two weeks ago.
In the meantime, Rafael Nadal has quietly recuperated from his first-round defeat to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon, and has reclaimed the world no.2 spot from Murray after winning the Montreal Masters and Cincinnati Open. He remains a champion, as does Djokovic, who will be smarting both from last year’s final and from the harrowing straight-sets defeat to Murray in this year’s Wimbledon climax.
You would think that we would be chomping at the bit to recollect the glory of last September
There is one of two actual explanations. The first is that we cannot divorce the concept of the plucky British underdog from Murray himself. There is a belief that his two Grand Slams are too good to be true, for this does not happen to British tennis. The naysayers secretly believe that with Nadal and Djokovic in excellent form, he will be found out for the imposter he is, posing as a gladiator of the arena when in fact he is a flat-track bully. Nonsense, of course, but we struggle to embrace our own success stories.
The second is that we have reached a state of unconscious boredom. There was something tacitly thrilling in Murray’s propensity to fall agonisingly short in Grand Slams, and something equally captivating about picking him and ourselves off the canvas for another bout of nerve-shredding tension. The thrill was in the chase. Now he is no longer a Henman-esque nearly-man, but a winning machine who has lost just one of his last 21 Grand Slam encounters. The fun, masquerading as nail-biting despair, is over.
The storyline is unlikely to deviate in America. Murray looked in fine touch against Llodra, and should overcome his second-round opponent, Leonardo Mayer, without too much difficulty: the real challenges will begin in the quarter-finals, most likely against Berdych. But Murray has proved time and time again that he is capable of meeting the biggest challenges. He deserves our expectation and support, not indifference, now that he has provided us with the success we have craved for so long.