If Andy Murray experienced that nagging feeling of déjà vu when he examined the draw for the US Open last night, it would not only have been because of the bizarre manner in which the United States Tennis Association conducts the draw for the final grand slam event of the year.
For the sixth grand slam in a row, the No.4 seed is in the same half as Rafael Nadal and, as last year, the figure of Stanislas Wawrinka stands in his immediate path towards his first grand slam title.
Unlike at the other three grand slams, where the random placement of players in the 128-man draw is done live, the US Open chooses to place all the non-seeded players in the draw the night before, with only the seeds placed “live” the following day. There were witnesses, apparently, but those handed a more difficult assignment may be a little sceptical.
Should Murray get the opportunity for revenge, he will be desperate to take it. His third-round defeat by Wawrinka last year was one of his most disappointing defeats of 2010, a match he described as “horrible”.
First up is the Indian Somdev Devvarman, ranked No.64 and a man he has never played, but who won his first singles title in Johannesburg earlier this year. The big-hitting Dutchman Robin Haase, who also won his first title this year, is likely to be awaiting in round two, with Feliciano Lopez, of Spain, in round three before Wawrinka.
Juan Martin Del Potro, the champion in 2009, Robin Soderling or John Isner could be his quarter-final opponent before Nadal looms large in the last four.
Looming even larger is Hurricane Irene, which is due to hit the New York coast this weekend and may delay Monday’s scheduled start. Everyone’s practice sessions may be curtailed but it should not affect the confidence of Murray, who won the Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati last weekend, when an ailing Djokovic was forced to quit in the final. The Serb, beaten just twice this year, is the obvious favourite but the former world No.1, John McEnroe, believes Murray could be the man.
“He’s been in three finals and this could be his tournament,” McEnroe said. “Murray is the X Factor. I think this is his best chance to win a major. I think winning last week has given him a lot of confidence.”
Djokovic remains the man to beat as he chases his third grand slam title of 2011. The runner-up to Nadal last year, the word from inside his camp is that the decision to quit against Murray in Cincinnati was merely a precaution against a worn-out shoulder. Come Monday, he will be raring to go.
Roger Federer, the only other man to beat Djokovic this year, is seeded No.3 behind the Serb and Nadal. The Spaniard suffered blisters to his hands in Cincinnati, courtesy of a cooking accident, but said yesterday he was feeling rested and in good spirits as he looks to win grand slam No.11.
“They are better,” he said. “After Wimbledon I was very tired and I practised just four days before Montreal. I would have liked to have played some more matches but I have been practising well and I’m feeling good.”
Elena Baltacha, Britain’s No.1-ranked woman, meets Jamie Hampton in round one, an American whom she beat at the same stage in the Australian Open in January.
Anne Keothavong will play Chanelle Scheepers, of South Africa, but Heather Watson, the third direct entrant, faces a daunting encounter against Maria Sharapova, the No.3 seed.
Laura Robson and Naomi Broady were due to play their second-round qualifying matches last night.