What has happened to Andy Murray?
It was a little over a year ago that Murray won the title at Wimbledon, ending the game's most notorious streak—he was the first man from Great Britain to win the tournament since 1936—and capturing his second Grand Slam title in as many seasons.
With Roger Federer clearly on the slide toward the end of his illustrious career, it appeared Murray was ready to challenge Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal for the title of the world's top player.
And he hasn't won since.
Part of that, of course, was his recovery from back surgery last September. That is understandable. He has also changed coaches, going from Ivan Lendl to Amelie Mauresmo.
That move seemed a reactionary one during Murray's struggles, however, not the cause of them. Because, quite frankly, he hasn't resembled the player who seemed on the precipice of greatness last summer.
He is 34-14 on the season, with no titles. He has been good but not great at the Grand Slams, reaching the quarterfinals in Australia and Wimbledon and the semifinals at Roland Garros (though he lost to Rafael Nadal, which everyone else does in France, too).
Mitchell spoke to Murray about that very virus:
'I feel good,' he says as we chat on the players’ balcony in Mason. 'I feel well, I have practised well. I just need to get that winning mentality back. Last week [losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga] I messed the match up a bit.' As Murray sees it: 'Guys can come back. That can always happen. When you’re playing against a guy as good as Tsonga, he can always come back. He’s a streaky player as well.'
That 'as well' sounded as if Murray was including himself in that category. 'But from that position, you don’t want to be losing four games in a row,' he adds. 'It’s OK to lose one or two, but not four. That’s something I’ll have to keep an eye on.'
Indeed it is. Of course, that was before he blew a lead for a second time, this one coming against Roger Federer. Is his confidence lacking? Is he simply not that engaged in these matches? Is he thinking too much on the court, the result of switching coaches?
Perhaps it is a sampling of the three that plagues him.
But the U.S. Open is a great tournament to turn things around. He's won here before, he's reached at least the quarterfinals in New York in the past three seasons, and frankly, there should be a level of desperation in his play this time around.
No, it doesn't help that he landed in the Djokovic quarter. But to win these tournaments, you eventually have to beat the top players. If he has to do that a bit earlier than he used to, so be it. Plus, one of his normal foes won't be awaiting him, as Kevin Palmer of ESPN tweeted:
Nadal's US Open pull out is a big break for @andy_murray. Top 8 seeding assured and a passage to the quarter finals at least. Shame for Rafa— Kevin Palmer (@kpsundayworld) August 18, 2014
Of course, a player of Murray's talent should be a shoo-in for the quarters regardless, even when he's drifted well down the rankings. Anything less than a place in the semifinals should always be a disappointment for Murray.
It has been a season to forget for Murray. Of course, winning a Grand Slam title has a way of making everything a bit more memorable. It's time he rediscovered a positive attitude and winning mentality on the court.
It's time one of the game's elite talents started playing like it once again.