It is a long way from the noise and excitement of Flushing Meadows – 6,740 miles to be precise – but this week’s Japan Open has provided the perfect environment for Andy Murray to return to action following his historic triumph at the US Open. The competition has been good, there is a relaxed atmosphere around the Ariake Colosseum venue, which is situated in a business district near Tokyo Bay, and the Scot is enjoying the opportunity to play doubles with his brother, Jamie. Best of all, he is in a city where there are sushi restaurants on almost every corner.
Murray is the double defending champion here, having beaten Rafa Nadal in last year’s singles final and won the doubles with Jamie. He is the top seed in the singles, with Tomas Berdych his projected opponent in Sunday’s final. Murray’s first two matches have provided contrasting opponents, but he despatched both with impressive efficiency, beating both Ivo Karlovic and Lukas Lacko in straight sets, and recovering from a brief mid-match pause to see off Stanislas Wawrinka in three sets and set up a semi-final against Milos Raonic.
Meanwhile the Murrays began their doubles campaign by beating Eric Butorac, Jamie’s former partner, and Jarkko Nieminen 5-7, 6-3, 10-4. But in the quarter-finals their title defence came to an end at the hands of the top seeds and Australian Open champions, Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek.
One minor problem for Andy has been jet lag, which always troubles him in this part of the world. Having arrived five days before his first match, he had been asleep every previous day at the time he went on court to face Karlovic. He was certainly wide awake by the time he faced the big-serving Croatian, however, dropping just nine points in his 11 service games en route to a 7-6, 6-4 victory, despite the recurrence of a back problem which has troubled him this year. “My back is stiff most days, but once you start to get warmed up the more matches I play it almost feels better,” he said. “It almost loosens it off a little bit and I get used to the movements.”
Murray, who went on to beat Lacko 6-1, 6-2 in just 57 minutes, got back into training seven days after his victory in New York. He spent the first few days back in Surrey doing very little other than walking his dogs before spending a day in Dunblane, where he was given the warmest of homecomings by a crowd of 15,000 who lined the streets of his home city.
“During the season there aren’t many times when you can get complete rest, so it was nice,” Murray said of his time back in Britain. “I got to spend two and a half weeks at home around my friends and family, so that was nice and relaxing. I think a lot of the players at this stage of the year are a little bit tired, both mentally and physically, and you have to find a way of managing that for the last couple of months of the year.”
Looking back on his memorable summer, Murray believes his two appearances at the All England Club were crucial to his eventual Grand Slam breakthrough in New York. The groundswell of support he enjoyed at the Championships, especially after his battling performance in the final against Roger Federer, provided the inspiration for his gold-medal triumph at the Olympics.
“I thought I played really well at the Olympics,” Murray said. “At the US Open I didn’t feel like I played that well. Obviously the conditions didn’t help, but I played smart tennis. It wasn’t always easy to serve well or to hit the ball cleanly from the back of the court, but I found a way to win the matches, even when I wasn’t playing well. That was so important.”
Three weeks after ending Britain’s 76-year wait for a male Grand Slam singles champion, he has been in a relaxed and confident mood here. His only gripe is that he has not always been successful in persuading his entourage to reject room service and sample the city’s countless sushi restaurants instead.
Nevertheless, he managed one trip to the celebrated Gonpachi Nishi-Azabu restaurant, which was the inspiration for the restaurant in Quentin Tarantino’s film, “Kill Bill”. Having previously welcomed Bill Clinton and George W Bush through its doors, the establishment can now claim a Grand Slam champion among its clients.