By Abhishek Mehrotra
Watching Andy Murray is always an interesting experience. One minute he's down in the doldrums, moving like a geriatric, and the next he's skimming across court, blitzing winners from incredible angles.
My experience was made even more compelling by the presence of two youngsters, Harry, 7, and Mattie, 5, seated with their mother in the row right in front of mine at Arthur Ashe Stadium. They'd travelled all the way from Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom to watch Murray play Alex Bogomolov Jr. in the first round.
"They're huge Andy Murray fans," said their mother. It was fascinating to try and watch the match from their eyes. Every point won was unbridled ecstasy, every point lost invited despair. Among the more weathered, or jaded fans - there was always the perception that it was a minor blip and Murray would eventually pull through. And so he did - in straight sets.
But to watch every conceivable emotion pass over the kids' faces as the match progressed was something else. Right at the end, when Murray broke Bogomolov Jr. for the second time in the final set, the older one screamed "Andy is winning, Andy is winning" before being hastily shushed by his mother.
This is why we get hooked on to sports - the passion it elicits is rarely matched by anything. But even here, the older you become, the more spectacular a point or a match needs to be to provoke those passions. With kids, it just comes so easy - a winner here, an unforced error there and they're on their way to a thrilling, rollercoaster ride.
After Murray won, I asked Harry it he thought his hero would go on to win the tournament. The response was an emphatic nod. So there you have it, from one of his biggest fans - Andy Murray will win the 2012 US Open.
When one of the "Big Four" is playing, there's no doubt who the star of the show is. The television camera suspended with the help of wires extending from the 24 floodlights in the upper reaches of Arthur Ashe followed Murray's every step - zooming in on him during the service break, tracking his every step as he came back on court. Poor Bogomolov Jr. must have felt like a neglected prop - although I'm sure most of the tour outside the top four is used to this treatment by now.
The only time the Russian got some love from the camera was when he changed his shirt to the sound of wolf whistles from the more spirited female members of the audience. At least that was something. The other times, most shouts of encouragement were directed at the Olympic gold medallist as well, with spontaneous outbreaks of "Come on Andy!" or "Murray" "Murray" punctuated occasionally by a solitary and forlorn "Alex". There were absolutely no chants of "Bogomolov Junior!"
Murray had one of his inconsistent days, switching from the sublime to the ridiculous and back to the sublime within the space of a few games. In the second game of the third set with Bogomolov Jr. serving, the world number four managed to rifle three clean return winners - each with a greater venom than the one before - touch his left knee tentatively while looking in great pain before finally taking the game with a perfectly weighted lob that landed about three feet inside the baseline. Up 2-0, the Brit seemed to completely fall apart, dropping serve with a barrage of errors, but then broke back with some more stunning shot-making in the following game to go 3-1 up. There was more to come.
In the following game, Murray almost fell to his knees, clutching his left leg as the crowd gasped. This looked serious. A couple of minutes later, he was back on his feet and ten minutes after that, he'd wrapped up the third set and the match. Say what you will about the Brit, he does provide great drama.
To be fair to Murray though, the New York heat was stifling at times and Bogomolov Jr. certainly didn't make it easy for him. "I was struggling a little bit," he explained during the post-match on-court interview. There were long points and long games, and I was sweating a lot which led to cramps"
He gave an interesting insight into how the pros adjust their games based on the weather conditions. "On the far side [of the court], you're playing into the wind and I had to hit flatter from there to get the ball across. On the other side, when playing with the wind, I had to play with more topspin [to prevent it from going out]"
The normally dour 25-year-old provided some mirth as well. When asked how he would grade his performance, he replied: "You mean on a scale of 1-10 or A, B, Cs. How do you want me to do it?" He settled for the former though, saying he would give himself 6 or 7 - the honesty of his response drawing a roar of approval from the crowd.