Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Andy Murray shrugs off Covid-19 worries to focus on US Open campaign | Sport


Andy Murray admits he initially felt “a bit of concern” about sharing a hotel with scores of players in New York during the pandemic over the next few weeks, although he has been tested twice in five days.

The 2012 champion, working his way through another cautious comeback, predicts “a lot of upsets” in the US Open, due to begin on 31 August, and having been away from serious competition since last November, he needs to find a rhythm quickly in the relocated lead-up Cincinnati Masters, which starts on the same site this weekend.

But it could be mundane details that determine the winner, as well as those who push through the early rounds for a chance to win either title.

“I thought about getting a house,” Murray said on Friday night, “but the costs were astronomical. Yes, going into a hotel is a bit of a concern but, when I saw everything they are doing to make sure it’s safe, I felt quite relaxed.

“I have been tested twice. There is security on-site to make sure everyone has a mask on, and hand sanitisers. From what I have seen, so far, everyone seems to be doing the right things. Yesterday I finished practice and was walking off the court. I took probably 10 or 15 steps and one of the ladies asked if I had a mask. I’d forgotten – but there are people around making sure we are not making too many mistakes.”

Murray, a two-times Cincinnati champion, plays the energetic young American Frances Tiafoe first up for a shot at Alexander Zverev in the second round of the relocated event and, ever the realist, the 33-year-old knows he will have to be at or near his best to survive.

He practised with Dominic Thiem, Tiafoe and the Russian Karen Khachanov the past couple of days, and said, “Those guys don’t hold back. It’s a different speed to what I have been used to lately. I have been off the pace. But I feel good on the court, in terms of my hip, physically. I wanted to get to the US Open feeling pain free and enjoy a Grand Slam again.”

As second seed Thiem, who pushed Novak Djokovic all the way in the Australian Open final, pointed out, “We’re safer than anywhere than on the whole planet, in the bubble here. But it’s not the lifestyle of a normal slam. That’s exhausting. It makes it different. The one who handles the special circumstances will be the one who lifts the trophy at the end.”

The echo in the stands also will challenge their patience and concentration, and could disturb those who rely on the energy of the crowd to lift them in difficult moments. Murray, who faces Tiafoe at 8pm (BST) on Saturday, can be one of those sort of players.

Djokovic, who railed against his critics this week for what he perceived as a “witch hunt” against him for his bedevilled Balkans tour, said it was important, “from a financial point” for the US Open to go ahead in difficult circumstances, even though he was, “very close to not coming a week before I landed in New York.”

The detail that swung it for him was a guarantee that he and others could return from the United States to Europe without going into quarantine – “which wasn’t confirmed until quite late”.

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