But when the U.S. Open gets underway Monday in New York, Murray, 25, likely will find his burden heavier than ever, his Olympic triumph only drawing attention to what’s lacking on his résumé.
Murray is 0-4 in the finals of Grand Slam events.
He arrives in New York as the tournament’s No. 3 seed. And he ought to carry renewed confidence into the season’s final major, given his straight-sets Olympic victory over Federer just four weeks after he had lost the Wimbledon final to the Swiss.
But Murray faces a difficult path to the 2012 U.S. Open championship, placed in Federer’s half of the draw. That means he’ll likely have to defeat the world’s No. 1 and 2 players, Federer and Novak Djokovic, in back-to-back, best-of-five-sets matches to claim his first Grand Slam title.
He managed just that at the Olympics, relegating Federer to the silver medal and Djokovic to the bronze-medal match, which he lost to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro.
“Obviously winning the Olympics was the biggest win of my career, that’s for sure,” Murray told reporters on the eve of the U.S. Open. But he hardly had a chance to celebrate the victory, much less figure out whether and where to display or store his gold medal, before launching in to his hard-court preparations the next day.
As Hall of Famer John McEnroe sizes up the U.S. Open’s men’s field, which will be without 2010 champion Rafael Nadal, who is sidelined by tendinitis, he could make a case for any one of the top three seeds as the favorite.
“I think it’s very close. You can make an argument for any one of them,” said McEnroe, who’ll provide commentary for ESPN.
Moreover, if one of the top three seeds wins, it would go a long way toward installing him as No. 1 for the year. No player has won more than one major this year. Djokovic claimed the Australian Open; Nadal, the French. Federer won Wimbledon. And Murray claimed the Olympic crown— not deemed a full-fledged major but an increasingly prestigious prize.
Federer, 31, is in the midst of a stunning resurgence, his oddly error-prone Olympic final aside. He reclaimed the No. 1 ranking upon claiming his seventh Wimbledon title in July. And he looked fit and in full command in his hard-court tune-ups heading into the U.S. Open.
“It’s going to take something special from my opponent to win,” said Federer, who boasts a record 17 major titles. “That’s kind of how it feels right now. Then again, I might walk away from Monday and [have] lost the first round.”
Federer hasn’t won the U.S. Open since 2008. The last two years he exited with particularly painful semifinal defeats, having led two-sets-to-none.