Once the hunter, now the hunted, Andy Murray is braced for an all-out assault on his US Open title from rejuvenated Rafael Nadal and world number one Novak Djokovic.
Murray ended Britain’s 76-year wait for a Grand Slam men’s champion by triumphing in New York in 2012 and backed it up with his historic Wimbledon victory this year, the first by a British man since Fred Perry in 1936.
The Scot beat Djokovic to win the US Open 12 months ago and repeated the dose against the Serb at the All England Club. But it is Nadal, rather than Djokovic, who is tipped to win a second title in New York, to add to his 2010 victory.
The 27-year-old Spaniard missed the 2012 tournament as he rested his troublesome knees, part of a seven-month injury lay-off which stretched from the second round at Wimbledon to February.
Since his return Nadal has racked up nine titles, including five Masters. Nadal’s title in Cincinnati last weekend followed victory in Montreal — the last man to clinch that double was Andy Roddick in 2003 who also went on to claim the US Open. “It’s a nice feeling to arrive to the US Open with two victories in two very difficult tournaments,” said Nadal.
Nadal has supplanted Murray as world No 2 since Cincinnati after finding himself relegated to five when he reappeared.
Murray’s post-Wimbledon party has fallen flat in recent weeks with a third round loss to Ernests Gulbis in Montreal followed by a quarter-final exit to Tomas Berdych in Cincinnati.
But Murray, 26, has been here before — 12 months ago, he arrived in New York having suffered third round defeats in both Toronto and Cincinnati.
“The things I need to do well — serving, returning, moving — that was good,” said Murray after his loss last week to the ever-dangerous Berdych.
Djokovic heads for New York with the focus squarely on Nadal as well as the worrying decline of Roger Federer, who has slipped to seventh in the world.
Djokovic, the 2011 US Open winner, is also keen to play down talk of how he and Murray — who have won seven of the last 11 majors — now hold the keys to the Grand Slam door.