They’re both former US Open champions, share a long history together, and have been drawn to potentially face-off in the third round in New York, but Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro enter the final Grand Slam of the season in very different places and with contrasting approaches.
Del Potro is ranked a career-high No. 3 in the world and has won 37 matches this year. Only three players have posted more victories on tour in 2018. The 29-year-old Argentine has finally moved past the three wrist surgeries that nearly ended his career and is back to becoming a force to be reckoned with on the tennis court.
Already a two-time titlist this season, Del Potro has made two semi-finals and one quarter-final in his last four Slams and is now back to his beloved US Open, where he has experienced his first and only major title triumph back in 2009.
“I’m feeling good. I’m in good shape. As everybody knows, this is my favourite tournament on tour, which I have big expectations at, playing in New York,” said a cool and confident Del Potro on Friday ahead of his first round against American qualifier Donald Young on Monday.
The ‘Tower of Tandil’ has reached the quarter-finals or better in five of his nine US Open appearances and has a 29-8 win-loss record at the tournament.
New York often has a magical effect on Del Potro and last year, he came back from the brink against Dominic Thiem despite being ill and trailing the Austrian two-sets-to-love. He went on to defeat Roger Federer in the quarters before losing to Rafael Nadal in the semis.
Buscando un poco de ritmo. 😂🕺🇲🇽 pic.twitter.com/ZNkOkpw9fC
— Juan M. del Potro (@delpotrojuan) July 30, 2018
While he still has to be meticulous when it comes to his body and recovery, Del Potro is miles away from three years ago, fighting so hard to salvage his career.
“The most important thing that all my injuries and problems is completely in the past. Now I’m feeling good. Sometimes I have to deal with any pain on my wrist, which is normal after all my surgeries,” he explains.
“But I think it’s amazing for me just thinking about tennis, don’t talk anymore about the injuries, which is the most important thing to myself and come to this tournament thinking about my highest ranking or my big expectations playing the tournament. It’s the best things I could feel before a tournament.”
For Murray, expectations will have to remain in check for now as he slowly recaptures his pre-hip surgery form. The Scot will be contesting his first Slam since Wimbledon 2017 and is just seven matches into his comeback from injury.
He skipped the last six months of 2017 then had an operation in January that kept him sidelined until June this year. He opted out of playing Wimbledon, which means the US Open will be his first best-of-five test in 14 months.
“It feels slightly different, this one because for the last 10 years or so I’ve been coming and trying to prepare to win the event, whereas I don’t feel like that’s realistic for me this year. It’s a slightly different mentality for me coming in than what I have had the last 10, 11 years of my life,” said the 31-year-old Murray. “That feels a bit odd.”
The US Open is where Murray captured his first Grand Slam title, in 2012, after losing all of his four previous major finals. The former world No. 1 opens his campaign on Monday against Australia’s James Duckworth before a possible second round against either Feliciano Lopez or Fernando Verdasco. Del Potro could be waiting for him in round three.
“I’m happy that I’m able to be back competing again here. It was tough missing it last year. I was pretty upset at the time. Yeah, really, really pleased to be back. I’ll try to enjoy it as much as I can,” said Murray, who is currently ranked 378 in the world.
Will his body be ready for best-of-five matches?
“I need to see. I haven’t played one, so you don’t know until you actually get out there and do it. That’s the thing,” said Murray.
“I played some long matches in Washington. They were all over two-and-a-half hours, and a three-hour match. Three of them in four days. The benefit of the slams is having that day off to recover in between, which will help me.”
Ons Jabeur survived heat, illness and a battling Alexandra Dulgheru to book herself a spot in the US Open main draw on Friday.
The Tunisian threw up on the court during her 63 76(4) win over Dulgheru and admits she was relieved to close out the match in two sets, unsure how things could have gone in the third.
This will be Jabeur’s third US Open main draw appearance, having lost in the first round on her Grand Slam debut in 2014 and she made the second round here last year.
“I think with the heat and everything it was kind of tough,” Jabeur said of how she was feeling on the court.
“It happened to me at the French Open (in May) and I saw the doctor after that in Tunisia but nothing was wrong. I hope it’s just the heat and the stress.
“I’m drinking water and I feel it’s all coming up. It was tough rallies and she was holding up pretty good and she made my mission more difficult. But I needed to be there, I was there when she broke me at the end, I had to get it back. I’m really happy with this win.”
The world No. 114 is here without her coach Bertrand Perret, who is suspended for three months “for breaching the sport’s anti-corruption code by attempting to change the doubles partner of his former client, Peng Shuai, after the sign-in deadline,” according to the Tennis Integrity Unit.
Peng Shuai was also suspended for three months.
The incident that was the subject of the TIU investigation happened at Wimbledon 2017 when Perret was coaching Peng Shuai.
The suspension however was announced this month and it means Jabeur will be without her coach until November.
In US Open qualifying, players were around to speak to their coaches on the sidelines during the changeovers. Jabeur did not have that luxury though.
“I’m not that kind of player that likes to speak to the coach mid-match, even in WTA events, I don’t usually call him, I just do because he wants to come to the court more than I want him to. I kind of forgot that he’s not here. It’s a good thing, it’s not in a bad way. I was really focused on playing and winning the matches that I forgot. He’s with me all the time because we’re texting,” she said.
“It’s a shame though that the trial was one year after the incident happened and it ended up affecting me and I had nothing to do with what happened. But I’ve got to say, he’s a very good coach. He puts work before money and it’s tough to find a coach like him. He’s very honest and I can’t wait to practice again with him in November.”
Jabeur is looking forward to the main draw and admits that the idea of potentially drawing Maria Sharapova, who has a qualifier in the first round, is intriguing.
She feels New York often brings out the best in her, and if her form from qualifying is anything to go by, Jabeur, who turns 24 on Tuesday, can feel good about her chances this tournament.
“It’s amazing [to qualify for my third US Open]. I think I played well every time, except one year when I came here a bit sick and I also threw up on the court, I clearly have a problem here,” she said with a laugh.
“I think it’s pretty good. I have a lot of American friends here, they come all the time to support me in the qualies. I like it here, maybe it’s Manhattan and everything.
“And my birthday is always here, so in case anyone is reading this, it’s on August 28 and I like everything. Bring presents. I’m happy I qualified so I can go to the gift shop they have a lot of presents there.”
Andy Murray believes the new Davis Cup format, set to be introduced next season, is not the right solution for the competition and that having two competing team events from the ITF and the ATP puts the players in a tough position having to choose which one to participate in.
The Davis Cup revamp plan was voted on by ITF member nations in the annual general meeting earlier this month and 71.43 per cent of the votes cast were in favour of it.
The new format will combine the multiple ties that are scattered throughout the season to one week-long event at a neutral venue, with 12 qualification ties held in February.
“I would have abstained,” Murray told reporters at the US Open when asked how he would’ve voted if he was given the chance.
“Neither are the correct solution, I don’t think — in my opinion. From pretty much every single player that I’ve spoken to, and I’ve been in players council meetings where we’ve discussed things with the ITF and stuff, is that all players love playing Davis Cup. You can’t question that. You watch the players play, the passion and how much they get out of it.
“But obviously something wasn’t working because the top players were not playing. Whether that was because of scheduling, coming immediately after the slams, things like that. Possibly because it was every single year and it was a bit too demanding.”
There are several issues with the new Davis Cup including the fact that it will be played in November at the end of a long season, and less than two months before the ATP World Team Cup that is expected to launch in January 2020. Playing the Davis Cup finals on neutral ground has also been a major gripe for many players and fans who feel the home crowd atmosphere is one of the most special aspects of the competition.
“I think there was potentially less drastic changes that could have taken place to make it better, like even keeping potentially the same format but doing it every couple of years. I’ve heard lots of different ideas and discussions that were not quite as drastic as what’s happened,” said Murray.
“I don’t think that having a week-long team event in the middle of November, followed by a week-long team event at the beginning of January, I think that’s confusing for fans. I don’t think that it makes it easy for the players to decide, like, which one’s more important. Do you play the ITF one or the ATP one. It’s not a perfect fix.
“But you have to give the decision that’s been made, you need to give it a chance to work and see. We should try to get behind it and support it and see if it works. If it does, fantastic. But if not, I believe you can always change and go back. That’s also an option.”