After Slow Start, Murray & Skupski Clicking Into Form
Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski were one hold by Jack Sock away from losing in the US Open quarter-finals on Wednesday afternoon. The Brits trailed 2-5 in the final set, but rallied to advance to their maiden Grand Slam semi-final together.
“Today Jamie’s experience came through. He kept me calm in the crucial moments, especially when we were behind,” Skupski said. “He was saying, ‘Keep on going, keep on going.’ And then when we got to the tie-break, just to push, give them nothing cheap, let’s keep fighting.”
Murray and Skupski joined forces during the grass-court season earlier this year after Murray ended his partnership with Bruno Soares. Murray has reached the sport’s highest highs, climbing to No.1 in the ATP Doubles Rankings and winning two men’s doubles Grand Slam championships. Skupski has climbed as high as World No. 27 and captured three ATP Tour doubles titles.
Before the duo came together, Skupski had played with his older brother, Ken Skupski. The siblings competed alongside one another at five straight Grand Slams through Roland Garros this year. But Ken was supportive of Neal playing with Murray considering all the lefty has accomplished in his career.
However, Murray and Skupski did not get off to the quickest start, going 2-3 on the grass and then losing in the first round of the Coupe Rogers, their first ATP Masters 1000 tournament together.
“Their partnership wasn’t their ideal start but they have put some hard work in to get to where they are today. They deserve all this success and I only think this is the start for them,” Ken told ATPTour.com. “Jamie and I have a good relationship and I know it wasn’t easy for him when he asked Neal to play. I will always be there for them as a pair and still feel a little part of it.”
Murray is just four years older than his partner, but he began his professional career at an earlier age, as Skupski attended Louisiana State University before heading on the ATP Tour. The same way Skupski will now benefit from Murray’s experience, Murray learned from veterans he played with at a younger age.
“I played with Max Mirnyi for example. We didn’t do that well that year, but I learned a lot from him, especially about preparing for tournaments, professionalism, things like that. It’s nice to play with someone who you know has been there and knows what it takes to win at that level and how to go about giving yourself the best chance to win,” Murray said. “I played with him here in 2008 and he told me before the tournament, ‘I’ve been in the final of this tournament every year for the past eight years.’ We lost first round!”
But Murray’s point was that he was still able to learn from the relationship.
"I’m just there doing my thing,” Murray said. “I obviously try to help him as best I can because it bodes well for me, right?”
For Skupski, it’s not just about his game on the court. Murray has also helped him off the court to better put him in a strong position to perform to his best ability.
“[It’s also] just the little things for me to be a little more professional like recovery, getting here a little bit earlier to do a little more stretching out in the gym, trying to learn from Jamie, which I’ve done in the past, but not as much,” Skupski said. “He’s definitely helping me.”
The elder Skupski, who lost in the first round, said if he didn't have to look after his children he would be booking a flight back to New York. Ken noted that as much as Murray is helping his younger brother, Neal also brings his own positive attributes to the relationship.
“Jamie has a vast amount of experience and it showed at times but I also think Neal’s play and energy when things haven’t been going so well has spurred Jamie on,” Ken said. “Both bring different things and that’s one reason Jamie chose Neal in the first place.”
The Brits found their groove after Montreal, advancing to the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Open and the Winston-Salem Open before arriving at Flushing Meadows.
“Obviously it didn’t go too well on the grass… we didn’t spend much time after the grass. I played World TeamTennis for three weeks and Jamie played a week with Andy in Washington. And then we played Montreal together, we practised once before the match,” Skupski said. “We went to Cincinnati and we had a lot of days to work and practise. We put a lot of things together and I think from then it worked really well. We got a lot of matches in Cincinnati… we’ve come into the US Open with a lot of confidence and we’re in the semi-finals now and we’ve got to just take it one match at a time.”