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Monday, August 23, 2010
Can Andy Murray win when it matters?


Editor's note: Beginning Aug. 16, Ravi Ubha unveils the top 10 U.S. Open questions. Check back each weekday until Aug. 27 as we count down to No. 1.

5. Is this finally the Slam for Andy Murray?

Andy Murray, disturbed by the immense heat and scheduling, was pretty grumpy at the Cincinnati Masters. He resembled the annoyed teenager that first made headlines on the tour five years ago, berating himself, taking out his frustration on his racket and glaring at his entourage, now lighter thanks to the discarding of another coach, Miles Maclagan.

Murray's frustration is sure to grow, no matter what he says, if he can't win the big one in New York, his favorite Grand Slam. Two years ago, few would have predicted the Scot to be Slam-less by 2010.

Murray called his U.S. Open preparation "perfect," and despite his early -- and somewhat expected -- departure in Cincinnati, who could disagree?

He played the way many have wanted him to: more aggressively. David Nalbandian, who'd won two in a row against Murray and 11 straight on the circuit overall, noticed the change in the wake of getting crushed by the 23-year-old at the Rogers Cup. It was one-way traffic from the baseline.

Murray employed similar tactics versus Rafael Nadal, and another emphatic victory was the outcome in Toronto. Against Roger Federer, Murray relied a little more on his acclaimed defense to win the title. Six sets contested and none lost confronting that terrific trio. What a way to win a first title this campaign.

Murray competed in one more tournament than most of his rivals leading up to Flushing Meadows, undone in the final in Los Angeles by the improving, but still inconsistent, Sam Querrey. He got plenty of matches in and expects any resulting fatigue to subside.

His head is clear, too, after releasing Maclagan, a move he pondered for a while.

The question isn't whether Murray can go deep -- reaching the semifinals -- in New York, even though he exited in the fourth round in 2009 to Marin Cilic. His wrist might have been bothering him more than he let on.

It's whether, of course, Murray can outdo Federer and Nadal when it really matters. He toppled Nadal at the 2008 U.S. Open and in January's Australian Open, only to then come up short against Federer on both occasions.

After ousting Nadal in the Australian Open quarterfinals by attacking, Murray completely sat back and allowed Federer to dictate.

Federer has the mental edge over Murray at the majors, and the former's win over Mardy Fish in Cincinnati on Sunday now makes the rejuvenated Swiss harder to handle. Nadal, mediocre or not in his past two tournaments, comfortably handled Murray at Wimbledon, a bigger stage than the Rogers Cup.

All of Britain awaits. Again.