Andy Murray looks to vitamin C not tea and sympathy against Thomaz Bellucci – The Guardian

Andy Murray expects to have to deal with his head cold at least until the fourth round of the US Open – if he gets past the 30th seed, Thomaz Bellucci, on Saturday – and he is not looking for sympathy.

“The only thing I’ve taken is vitamin C,” he said after spluttering through five tough sets against Adrian Mannarino on Thursday night and wary of any banned substances lurking in other medications.

“The doctors that are here and part of the Tour can prescribe you stuff that’s fine but there’s no real cure. Hopefully it takes three or four days before it’s out of the system. That’s one of the things about being an athlete. It’s survival of the fittest. There’s not much you can take.”

He can take heart from another courageous fightback, the eighth time in his career he has won after losing the first two sets. Critics who say he played poorly in the first hour and a half are being a bit harsh – although he did make an unholy mess of surrendering the second set – because Mannarino hit a level suited to the occasion.

When lower-ranked players are thrown into big matches they invariably have the talent but not always the self-belief to express it for more than a few points here and there or the extra fitness or sheer determination, sometimes, to survive a serious examination of their tennis, especially over five sets. It is why they never make the breakthrough their early promise holds out for them.

It is why Richard Gasquet, rated as promising as Rafael Nadal when they were teenagers, probably will never win a major. It is why Murray and Novak Djokovic, contemporaries of both of those players, have done.

On Saturday, Murray faces another talented player in Bellucci, who began the year ranked 64 in the world, dipped as low as 87 in March and comes to New York on a steady rise to 30, only nine places adrift of his career best. So he represents danger, as James Ward discovered in the first round.

Murray has been around long enough to dismiss thoughts of an easy win, especially as he is struggling to shake off the cold virus that has hit the locker room. Plus, the conditions here are brutal.

When Jack Sock staggered to a halt with cramp while trying to serve at the start of the fourth set against the Belgian Ruben Bemelmans, then collapsed semi-conscious in front of shocked fans on Thursday afternoon, the physical demands of modern tennis were laid bare for all to see. He was the 13th player to quit the tournament through illness or injury, in only four days.

Sock, a strong young player ranked 28 in the world – who recovered fully after treatment – is as fit as most players on the Tour. Few are fitter than Murray – which is why he is confident of getting through his illness and past Bellucci.

“I didn’t drop that much weight in the match [against Mannarino],” he said. “Over the last few years I’ve got much better at knowing how much I need to drink in certain heat and conditions. I weigh myself before and after every single match. I didn’t drop loads of weight, which is a good thing.”

As for Bellucci, another left-hander, Murray said: “I played Bellucci once, in Madrid. We were at altitude there. He plays well on the clay but I think he plays even better at altitude. I don’t know if he grew up at altitude but he likes it when the conditions are pretty lively, like they are here. He’s obviously playing well.”

What impressed about Murray after surviving such a match that came close to pitching him out of the tournament was his upbeat, almost lighthearted, mood afterwards. Long gone are the post-match blues that dragged his spirit down to dangerously low levels; marriage and impending fatherhood have obviously brought him inner calm.

He was not even particularly riled when Mannarino slammed a full-force volley into his back. “When I got hit with the ball, I wasn’t angry,” he said. “That’s a legitimate play and it happens. I almost deserve that for the bad volley that gave him the chance to do that. When he hit the ball and it was pretty close to my head after the point had finished, I didn’t like that so much.”

Murray, who took unnecessary abuse for his support of Scottish independence earlier this year, has found a new cause, the World Wildlife Fund, and wears their badge on his shirt.

“It’s quite a nice thing to do, helping a charity. I love animals. I’ve spoken with Matt [Gentry, his business adviser] about doing stuff for charities. I care as much about animals as I do about human beings. Some people find that funny, I don’t find it funny. I just think that we’re all on this planet together and it’s horrible when you see what happens to some animals that are almost extinct. There was that story about Cecil the lion a few weeks ago. It’s horrible. Anything you can do to help. They don’t have a voice, human beings do. It’s nice to try to help with that.

“The thing with animals is you have to kind of accept things. I love my dogs. You can teach them to behave. But if they decide by themselves that they’re going to be naughty, you just have to accept that, whereas with people, it’s a lot easier to discipline them and tell them the difference between right and wrong.”

Warming to the subject – when most other players might have rushed for the late-night courtesy car back to a hotel – Murray shared a childhood episode that, well, read it for yourself …

“I grew up with animals. My family always had dogs. I had a couple of hamsters when I was a kid. The first one that I had was called Whisky. I lost him down the back of a sink. You know how in a house you would have just a sink in a bedroom? I wrapped a duvet round the back of the sink to stop the hamster from getting in there. I don’t know how it managed to get under the duvet.

“I used to just let it out and run around. It got behind the sink and went under the floorboards. I left a mousetrap, not one that would kill but one that would catch it if it came out of the floorboards. I woke up the next morning, the bit of cheese was gone, the mousetrap hadn’t worked. It had obviously got up there and got the food – and that was that.”


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