When champions play well, they win. When champions play a lot less than well, they still win. Andy Murray, the Olympic gold medalist and former finalist at the US Open, served at 49 percent of first serves and got broken four times when playing the US-based Russian Alex Bogomolov Jr., on a steamy afternoon at Flushing Meadow. But he won 6-2, 6-4, 6-1.
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"I didn’t serve well most of the match," said the man who, many experts feel, is primed to win his first Grand Slam title in two weeks’ time. "But I won in three sets, only lost seven games, so I must have done something well today. I think I played fairly well from the back of the court."
The British fans in the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium got a nasty shock when Murray pulled up suddenly after racing for a drop shot. But it was only a cramp. "Yeah, just a little bit of a cramp," he said. "It was very, very hot and tough conditions today. Very humid on the court. Maybe I didn’t take enough fluid. I haven’t played many matches in that kind of humidity for a while. It’s probably a bit of a shock to the body. I need to make sure I’m on that for the next match."
Winning Olympic gold with such a stellar performance against Roger Federer in the final has obviously boosted Murray’s confidence but he was asked about how the public perception of him has changed, especially back in Britain, since losing to Federer in the Wimbledon final just before the Olympics. Memorably, he cried on court and showed an emotional side that is usually hidden.
"I don’t know about public perception, that’s not for me to say," he replied. "I know that after the final, the support I got from people around me and people I was bumping into in the street was incredibly positive and something I had never experienced to that degree ever before. That helped me get over the Wimbledon loss much quicker. When everyone around you is positive, it makes a difference to the way you feel about yourself. It makes it easier to perform."
Meanwhile, over at the compact Grandstand Stadium, Jack Sock had been giving American tennis a little glimpse of the future by producing a blockbuster performance against the No. 22 seed from Germany, Florian Mayer. The fact that Mayer complained of feeling dizzy and retired midway through the third set should not detract from the young American’s victory. He won 6-3, 6-2, 3-2 (Ret.), and basically served Mayer off the court.
There were moments when his talented opponent, who can do dangerous things with a forehand that starts with an exaggerated backswing, had him in trouble, but they were brief.
"I think my serve was pretty reliable when I was down," said the big 19-year-old from Lincoln, Neb. "I was down 0-30 once or twice; 0-40 once. Came up with some good serves, first ball combos. There were turning points — not letting him get a break, not letting him get some momentum back."
Sock’s ability to keep the pressure on, not just with his serve, but with some powerful, deep hit forehands, hinted at a game that is coming together nicely. Sock made his mark at the US Open last year by winning the mixed doubles title with Melanie Oudin but, naturally, his focus is on singles, and he has benefited from a tough training regime that he spent with Gil Reyes in Las Vegas for a month in the summer. With Reyes, who got Andre Agassi back on track when his career slumped, it is always tough. But Jack, who has a big body to take care of, survived. "I am in better shape this year for sure," he says. "I was with Gil and his team getting my body ready for this summer and this tournament. It has helped."
There was an American winner at the other end of the career spectrum, too. At 32, James Blake came through a tough battle against Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko 7-5, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and afterwards talked of how great it was to be able to move freely again. "Don’t worry about the ice, it’s just preventative," he smiled, sitting there with clumps of the stuff all over him. "I’m actually feeling great. It’s been exciting for me, after knee surgery, to feel that I can actually move the way I used to or the way I need to compete here. It’s a good feeling. You know, every time I come back here it’s still sort of goose bumps walking out on Louis Armstrong or Arthur Ashe. I can’t believe it’s been, I think, 12 years I have been playing here. It still doesn’t feel normal. It’s still incredible to be here and to be doing what I dreamed of as a kid."
Maria Sharapova, playing for the first time since losing to Serena Williams in the Olympic final, made short work of Hungary’s Melinda Czink 6-2, 6-2 and then talked about the tummy bug which forced her to withdraw from Montreal and Cincinnati. "I had some tests done in Montreal, some blood work, some ultrasound stuff," she revealed. "They said I should just rest."
Asked why she had all those tests done and whether she thought it was something bigger than a tummy bug, she smiled, "Yeah."
Why? "Just because of the pain I was having. It was really weird. They told me I was fine, not pregnant. I’m like, ‘Can I get my money back?’"
Sharapova, whose basketball playing fiancée, Sasha Vujacic, has gone back to play a season in Turkey, laughed away further questions. "I don’t think we should make this much more dramatic than it was," she said with a huge grin.
Earlier, just before a torrential downpour delayed play for about two hours, defending champion Sam Stosur had started as a title-holder should by beating Petra Martic of Croatia, 6-1, 6-1. Stosur, in fact, got away to such a flying start that she won the first 19 points of the match and started to think of a golden set.
"Yea, I knew at 4-0, 40-0 that I hadn’t missed a point and the match had been pretty quick," she said. It did pop into my head for a split second. Then I hit a double fault and it was erased."