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Andy Murray's US title bid boosted by Rory McIlroy chat

By Paul Newman

At this stage of 2013 voting might just as well have been closed in the Sports Personality of the Year awards after Andy Murray had ended Britain's 77-year wait for a men's singles champion at Wimbledon.

Given Rory McIlroy's golf victories this summer at the Open and US PGA Championship, the same probably applies this year.

Murray and McIlroy met on Friday at the Ridgewood Country Club, where the pride of Holywood was competing in The Barclays. The course is just 23 miles from where the Scot today begins his US Open campaign at Flushing Meadows.

It was no surprise that the two men found plenty to talk about. "Obviously, we're both in individual sports and there has been a lot of expectation on both of us over the last few years," Murray said. "It's nice and it can be helpful to talk to other athletes in different sports. I find it interesting and it can give you a different way of looking at things. I enjoyed spending time with him.

"He's a very nice guy. I've met him a couple of times before, at some of the tournaments. He's enjoying himself just now. He has played great the last few months. I'm happy for him.

"You watch him live but then you speak to him and can see he is a totally normal guy. He's not different to anyone else, just incredibly gifted at golf. He obviously works extremely hard at it as well.

"You see him playing with Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker. He's hitting the ball 30 or 40 yards further than Jimmy Walker, who is a fantastic golfer, and that's special. You can't teach that. He's a small guy and not incredibly strong, but he has incredible technique and timing. It was great to watch."

Would McIlroy be a worthy successor as Sports Personality of the Year?

"I would expect him to win it," Murray said. "He deserves it. I don't think anyone has come close to achieving what he has done this year. He still has a bit of time left to do some more damage. He would definitely be my pick."

After his own up-and-down season Murray will know that his only chance of being one of the contenders for this year's award will be if he wins the final Grand Slam tournament of 2014.

The Scot has a fine record at Flushing Meadows, where he won the junior title in 2004, reached his first Grand Slam final in 2008 and won his first Grand Slam title in 2012, but since beginning his comeback from back surgery at the start of this year he has failed to find the necessary consistency to win tournaments. It is now 13 months since he won a title or beat an opponent ranked in the world's top 10.

The draw, moreover, has handed Murray a major challenge over the next fortnight. His potential route to the title is littered with seasoned campaigners, starting with Robin Haase in the first round this afternoon.

Haase is the world No 70 and has never been in the top 30, but the 27-year-old Dutchman is a flamboyant shot-maker who can trouble the best.

Murray learnt as much here three years ago, when Haase won the first two sets in their second-round encounter before losing in five. Murray won in straight sets in their only subsequent meeting, at last year's Australian Open in Melbourne.

Asked if he felt this was a good time to play Murray, given that the Scot was "struggling" to find his best form, Haase said: "If you struggle and you still make the semis and finals of big events, I don't call that struggling. I call struggling when a guy like me is losing in the first and second rounds."

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