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Toronto a harbinger for Djoker, Murray?
Tandon By Kamakshi Tandon
Special to ESPN.com
TORONTO -- Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic each have aspirations of thriving under the New York skyline in a couple weeks. So where do they stand after the Toronto Masters?
It was a perfect week for Murray as he defeated the red-hot David Nalbandian, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in consecutive matches to defend the title he won last year in Montreal. He'll face no more questions about being without a coach after his mental and tactical sure-footedness during the weekend, consistently pinning Federer deep on his backhand and hitting the ball deep at Nadal to stop his momentum before swinging the ball away to the far corner.
[+] EnlargeAndy Murray
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesHow much longer before we can finally call Andy Murray a Grand Slam champion?
Even after parting ways with Miles Maclagan, Murray has plenty of support on the road with physio, Andy Ireland; strength coach, Jez Green; trainer, Matt Little; girlfriend, Kim Sear; and mom, Judy Murray, a top-level coach in Scotland who spent some time scouting Murray's opponents in Toronto.
Murray will eventually need to bring in a coach to manage his development as well as handle everyday business like scouting opponents and arranging practice. But the team seems organized enough to get Murray through the U.S. Open.
Although Murray says not having a coach feels "different," the on-court evidence suggests the independent-minded Scot likes being his own boss for the moment: "I played pretty free-flowing tennis and didn't get too nervous."
He'll now be one of the favorites as he tries yet again to capture that elusive first major in New York. His nagging worry from the week should be the 6-0 set he dropped to Gael Monfils in the third round -- other than Federer or Nadal, both of whom he has multiple tour wins over, it's the free-swinging big hitters who have tended to upset him at majors over the past couple of years.
For Djokovic, his first and last matches were the takeaway in Toronto. He barely got through his opener against Julien Benneteau because of the heat, admitting that he had been on the verge of quitting.
Djokovic's struggles in hot conditions have become such a standing joke that even he's joining in the fun. "We're just waiting for DHL to give us a canister of oxygen that I will put next to me on the changeovers," he said.
But the Serb won't say exactly what the issue is or even if it's related to the breathing problems he had with allergies this spring.
"It did happen a couple of times already, but I said it back then and I'll say it again: I will never ever risk my health just to win," Djokovic said. "I've been doing a great job preparing for these tournaments for last couple of weeks, so there is no issue in that, no issue in me not spending enough hours in the sun. It's just, I guess, a little nervousness during the match, and it all combines with the heat and stress."
The extent of the problem was difficult to gauge because Djokovic played later in the day for the rest of the week, but sweltering Cincinnati should reveal much. He won't have much chance at the U.S. Open unless he can get through a couple of best-of-five matches in the heat and humidity.
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The semifinal against Federer showed why stamina is crucial. Djokovic came out trying to hit winners early and went down 6-1 and a break in around half an hour. "I was too impatient, and as soon as I started putting more, one ball more than him in the rally, I won most of the points," he said afterward.
The two rarely played their best at the same time during that roller-coaster three-setter, but when they did, the rallies were spectacular -- a reminder of just how Djokovic won the Australian Open in 2008. His huffing during the changeovers in the third set (Federer's breathing was normal) was a reminder of why he hasn't come close since.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
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