Andy Murray wants to fill his lungs and start yelling at the top of his voice again to help him go deep at the US Open, which starts on Monday to the clanking echo of empty stadiums.
Murray briefly went into the main draw at Flushing Meadows on merit from his world ranking of 129, after the Australian Alexei Popyrin joined the refuseniks two weeks ago; then the former champion had to rely on a wildcard after losing to Milos Raonic in the last 16 of the Cincinnati Open this week pushed him back to 134 in the world.
He is, nevertheless, relaxed on the eve of his first-round match against the 24-year-old Japanese left-hander Yoshihito Nishioka – perhaps less so about a possible second-round match against the player leading the British charge on form, Dan Evans.
If anything is going to unsettle the former world No 1 in the first round, it is unlikely to be Nishioka, who is at a career-high 48 in the ATP rankings and put Evans out of this year’s Australian Open but is still feeling his way at the highest level.
Murray, who thrives on drama, might be more worried about the lack of tension. Having played on show courts most of his career, the three-slam champion is used to channelling the nervous energy of a live crowd. He is more like the volatile Rafael Nadal than the ice-cool Roger Federer in his relationship with the audience, and he was reminded of that in his three matches at this week’s Cincinnati Open, held at the same Billie Jean King Centre venue.
“Obviously the atmosphere at the matches is going to be zero,” he said. “I guess you just have to try to find what works for you. When I go on the court, if I was basically quiet, not show any emotion and not talk, I’d feel really uncomfortable, very stressed and uptight. There’s a level of intensity that I feel I need to bring. I need to make sound on the court, make noise to play my best.
“Some guys, like Federer for example, he’s very relaxed off the court, and when he’s on it, that’s the way he appears as well. It obviously works for him. But maybe take someone like Rafa, for example. He is quite the opposite – although he’s toned it down a bit as he’s got older. But his first three or four years on the Tour, he was fist-pumping after every single point, and using so much energy. Again, it’s getting that balance. For me, I need to be making some noise on the court.”
For all his misgivings, he thinks the tournament will work. “I think it’s going to be fine. I think the USTA [United States Tennis Association] will do a good job, and make it as safe as it can be. It’s a shame that not many of the top women are coming. But it’s difficult. You look at the States as a whole, obviously the situation is really, really bad. But in New York the situation is not any worse than it would be in the UK just now.
“I think they’re doing pretty well in New York. It’s a difficult one. You understand why players wouldn’t travel but, now that I’m here, I feel safe. I don’t feel less safe here than when I’m going around London. As long as players respect the protocols, and I hope they do, everything should go smoothly.”