Andy Murray has been setting himself “unbelievably challenging” targets in recent years. Backing himself to reach the latter stages of Grand Slams with a metal hip following a body break-down while top of the world rankings in 2017 and surgery two years later.
It could be argued achieving any of them would be greater than anything else he has done in his illustrious career which has included two Wimbledon successes, a US Open victory, two Olympic gold medals and a Davis Cup triumph as well as becoming No.1. All won in what has been rated the greatest period in tennis history with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer sweeping up majors for fun.
Perhaps it was because he was emotionally down speaking in the wake of a straight-sets loss to 19th seed Grigor Dimitrov in the second round of the US Open at Flushing Meadows in New York. Perhaps it was also because he is his own harshest critic. But it seemed the never-say-die spirit which has epitomised his career had begun to seep away as he sat in front of the media in a bright red T-shirt, his head cupped in his left hand supported by his elbow propped on the desktop in front of him. He attempted to keep his facial expression straight, but what he said appeared to reflect the feelings of understandable sadness, frustration, disappointment and, crucially, a lessening of belief in his cause, nay crusade, bubbling and welling up inside him.
That he “might have to accept” his days of getting to the latter stages of majors are numbered. That he might not now be good enough to be selected for Britain’s Davis Cup team this month. That even his plans for the upcoming Asian swing have been thrown into disarray with his ranking of 37 was not deemed high enough to enter the Beijing tournament. There was even a hint, just a hint, about retirement, reflecting “things might change” in a “few months” if he stopped enjoying his preparation and “my ranking and everything starts to go backwards”.
He has focused on the Slams this year, made it to the third round of the Australian Open after two five-set wins. And he came close to making the same stage at Wimbledon against fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, with the late scheduling denying him the opportunity to finish off his eventually-victorious opponent while leading two sets to one on the first of their two-day encounter.
Murray, the 2012 US Open champion and crowd favourite, had impressed disposing of Corentin Moutet in the opening round of his 17th campaign at the Big Apple event
But his form largely deserted him against Bulgarian Dimitrov.
Murray, who believed he was playing his best tennis since his hip surgery going into his Dimitrov showdown, said: “Everything I felt I’m capable of might not be there. It’s unbelievably challenging to play at the highest level. It’s obviously disappointing to not play how you would like. Maybe I just need to accept the deep runs and everything that I felt I’m capable of, they might not be there.
“I still enjoy everything that goes into it. The work, the training and trying to improve and trying to get better. That’s what keeps me going. If I stop enjoying that or my results, my ranking and everything starts to go backwards and in a few months’ time I was ranked 60 in the world or whatever instead of moving up, things might change.
“If I want to have deep runs in these tournaments, I’m going to have to come up against players like Grigor. Whether I was seeded or not here in the top 32, I don’t think that guarantees I’m going to have a deep run either.
“I was going to play a lot over in Asia but I didn’t get in because it was ridiculously strong, with a cut off of 23 or something. The plan was to play Davis Cup (for Team GB in Manchester) but if I’m honest the other guys deserve to play ahead of me. Jack (Draper) is playing well. (Cameron Norrie, Dan Evans and Draper all got through to the Open’s third round on the day Murray exited). There’s probably a chance I’m not in the team.”
Murray lost his opening three service games in each set of his 6-3 6-4 6-1 defeat against Dimitrov, who had the Scot’s former coaches Dani Vallverdu and Jamie Delgado in his camp.
He said: “I didn’t serve well. Being broken at the start of every set meant I could never put any scoreboard pressure on Grigor. And when I did get back in the sets, I just didn’t play well enough. I fought hard enough. The manner of my defeat was disappointing.”