NEW YORK: Andy Murray admits he’s playing the best tennis of his life as he looks to capitalise on the growing frailties of his rivals and capture a second US Open title.
Ahead of Monday’s start to the season’s final Grand Slam in New York, the 29-year-old Scot 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.
“I think I’m playing my best tennis just now the last four, five months are not even close to anything else I had done before,” said Murray, who is chasing a fourth career major.
“It was way, way better. Seven finals in a row, you know. Won obviously Wimbledon again, the Olympics. It’s been really good.”
Murray has played in all of the first three finals of the majors in 2016, losing to world number Djokovic in Melbourne and Paris before putting Milos Raonic, one of the sport’s widely-hyped new generation, in his place in a straight sets spanking in the Wimbledon final.
The only worry for Murray is his relatively mediocre record in New York in the years since his first win — runs to the quarter-finals in 2013 and 2014 were followed by a fourth-round exit to Kevin Anderson of South Africa 12 months ago.
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 loss at the Olympics to a rejuvenated 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.
However, Djokovic’s form in 2016 remains impressive with a win-loss record of 51-5 and seven titles; Murray is 50-7 with four trophies.
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 defeat to Raonic at Wimbledon. The 35-year-old aggravated a knee injury in that defeat.
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.
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.
Marin Cilic, the surprise 2014 champion and 2009 winner Del Potro, the runner-up at the Olympics, should also not be discounted.