'I’m willing to take a risk': Murray targets US Open despite shadow of Covid-19

Kevin Mitchell
·4-min read

Andy Murray pauses when asked why he is gambling with his health to play at the US Open this month while Covid-19 is still raging in America like an unpredictable beast. “I’ve missed it, missed it a lot,” the 33-year-old Scot says. “The situation I’ve been in the last few years, I’ve not had opportunity to play in many slams. I don’t know how many I’ll have left.

“So, while I’m feeling relatively decent … obviously there is a risk there, but I want to try and play in them [the Cincinnati Open, transferred to Flushing Meadows and starting on 20 August, followed by the US Open on 31 August] and enjoy the biggest events again.”

Flushing Meadows is where he defeated Novak Djokovic to win the first of his three major titles eight years ago, and the US Open has always been his favourite tournament after Wimbledon, New York one of his favourite cities.

“I love playing the biggest events,” Murray says, “even though this will be different, with no fans. But that is something I care about and I’m willing to take a risk to go and play.”

Related: Katie Boulter bounces back at Battle of the Brits but new doubts shroud Madrid

Although he has been stretching his legs in the Battle Of The Brits team event in Roehampton in the past week, Murray has not played top-level tennis since the Davis Cup Finals last November – so he will bring a rested and refreshed body to the tournament, as well as doubts about rust. Murray’s long-troubled hip, resurfaced in January, is in good working order and his game is sharp, but it is a big ask for him to win a fourth grand slam title in the gloaming of a long, injury‑plagued career.

Never the less, Murray has a chance to go deep in New York – especially with Djokovic and Rafael Nadal almost certainly missing, and Roger Federer already sidelined for the year after knee surgery. On Sunday the Australian Nick Kyrgios joined his compatriot Ashleigh Barty as a US refusenik. It will be a surreal event, played in an echoing venue with a shredded field in both draws.

Murray, who will take his physio and coach and stay in a designated hotel near the site, outlined his itinerary on Sunday for what’s left of the season, keeping open some of his options.

“I’m going to go in the main draw [of the Cincinnati Open]. You can enter the bubble on 15 August. You get tested on arrival so can’t practise that day, and you can’t train until you’ve got your results back. So, providing everything goes well, that might be the afternoon on the 16th. The qualifying starts on the 19th – which might be a bit quick of a turnaround to get used to the conditions and get over the flight. Then there’s that period in the middle where you’re not able to do anything.

“So, I’m considering going earlier to New York and training on a private court somewhere, then getting there a few days earlier before having to enter the bubble and the testing. That’s what I’m thinking just now.”

As for returning for the remainder of the clay season – with the French Open in late September the biggest prize left and quarantining for 14 days an unknown – he says: “My understanding is that it would be sorted before we go to America. But things can change in the next 10 to 12 days. A lot can change, as we’ve seen with Brits going to Spain, for example.

“Hopefully before we leave, the players will have the assurances that, when they come back from America, they won’t have to quarantine for two weeks. If that is the case, and if you do well in the US Open, you can’t just arrive on the Sunday before the French Open starts on the Monday. That’s not going to work.”

As for the almost certain cancellation of the Madrid Open in September because of the recent coronavirus spike in northern Spain, Murray is similarly cautious. “It’s an unbelievably fluid situation. If Madrid gets cancelled there is the opportunity to put events on elsewhere as well. That’s my understanding.”

He also believes playing in Rome on the eve of the French Open would be difficult, with the Rome Masters scheduled from 20-27 September. “I would rather play the week post-US Open than play in Rome. The mentality of going into an event like Rome would be a bit odd, personally. I don’t think it is that easy playing best of five, especially in a really strong tournament, maybe five or six matches, and then have a good run at the French Open. For me the French Open would be the priority.”

Murray has a reputation for solving conundrums, with his health and his playing career. Those skills will be stretched to the limit over the next couple of months.