THERE WAS bad news and good news for Andy Murray here at the US Open yesterday. The bad news was that Hurricane Irene, which is sweeping up the east coast of north America, is scheduled to hit New York on Sunday night and may lead to a delayed start at the year’s last Grand Slam event. The good news was that Hurricane Novak, which has cut a swathe through men’s tennis this year, cannot strike Murray before the final.
Yesterday’s draw put Murray in Rafael Nadal’s half for the fourth Grand slam event in a row this year. He is seeded to meet the defending champion in the semi-finals and therefore cannot play Novak Djokovic, the world No 1 and champion of Australia and Wimbledon, until the final.
Djokovic, who is seeded to meet Roger Federer in the other semi-final, lost only his second match of the year when he retired with an injured shoulder in Sunday’s final of the Cincinnati Masters against Murray. However, the Serb said here he expected to be fully fit by the time the tournament starts.
“The shoulder is fine,” Djokovic said. “I can hit serves and play forehands good. I just needed a couple of days’ rest. There was nothing major wrong - no torn muscle or anything. It was just minor inflammation from playing too many matches.”
Murray was buoyed by his performances in Cincinnati, though his good mood may have been dampened by the bad weather here. Heavy rain started falling yesterday just before the Scot was due to practise.
Nadal is one of several familiar faces Murray could meet if he repeats his 2008 achievement in reaching the final, although he has never faced his first opponent, Somdev Devvarman, a 26-year-old from India. Murray could play Robin Haase, who is currently at a career-high No 42 in the world rankings, in the second round. The hard-hitting Dutchman, 24, has been hampered by injuries in the past but has enjoyed better fortunes of late. He beat Murray in their only previous meeting in Rotterdam three years ago.
In the third round, Murray is seeded to play Feliciano Lopez, whom his admiring mother Judy nicknames “Deliciano”. Murray beat the 29-year-old Spanish left-hander in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon earlier this summer. Lopez’s big serve can be dangerous, though Murray has won all five of their previous meetings.
Stanislas Wawrinka is Murray’s potential fourth-round opponent. It would be their third meeting here in the last four years. Murray beat him in straight sets in 2008 but lost in four sets in one of his most disappointing performances last year.
The seedings suggest that Murray will play Robin Soderling in the quarter-finals, but the Swede is in a section that includes Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion, and John Isner, the big-serving American. Del Potro, who lost to Murray in the quarter-finals here three years ago, is a particular threat, having climbed back to No 18 in the rankings following his recovery from a wrist injury that kept him out of the game for a year.
Nadal accounted for Murray in the semi-finals of the French Open and Wimbledon this year but the Scot beat him at the same stage here in 2008. Nadal has not looked at his best recently and has been troubled by a foot problem and sore fingers, which he burned on a hot plate in a restaurant.
However, Nadal said yesterday that he was feeling better. “I would have liked to have played some more, but I have been practising well this week and am feeling good,” he said.
Murray will be Britain’s lone representative in the men’s singles. James Ward was the only British man in qualifying but lost in the first round to Michael Yani, of the United States.
Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson are all in the main draw thanks to their world ranking, ensuring that Britain will have more women playing here than in any year since 1992, when Jo Durie, Monique Javer, Clare Wood and Sara Gomer flew the flag. Laura Robson and Naomi Broady, who were due to play America’s Taylor Townsend and Taipei’s Kai-Chen Chang respectively in the second round of qualifying last night, were hoping to add to the British contingent.
Watson, who won the junior title here two years ago, is playing in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament by dint of her world ranking for the first time. The world No 104 faces one of the toughest possible challenges after being drawn to play Maria Sharapova in the first round.
Sharapova, who beat Robson in the second round at Wimbledon, is in her best form for nearly three years following shoulder surgery and won the title in Cincinnati last weekend.
Baltacha plays the American Jamie Hampton, the world No 130, whom she beat in the first round of this year’s Australian Open in their only previous meeting. Keothavong faces Chanelle Scheepers, the world No 82. Keothavong won both their previous meetings, in 2008, though the 27-year-old South African has since made significant progress up the world rankings.
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