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What Murray needs to win the Open

In the season's final Grand Slam event, the top-four-ranked men in the world appear to be far ahead of the field. ESPN.com will follow No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Rafael Nadal, No. 3 Roger Federer and No. 4 Andy Murray daily from the U.S. Open. Four items regarding the big four: 4-on-4.

NEW YORK -- Neil Harman, the genial and talented tennis correspondent for The Times of London, estimates that 60 percent of his professional time is spent chronicling the exploits of Andy Murray.

"Your mood swings are almost the same as his," Harman said. "You're happy when he's happy, sad when he's sad, frustrated when he's frustrated.

"At the Grand Slams, the level of excitement increases. The sense of anticipation and fascination is, well, enormous."

That's because it has been 75 years since a man from Great Britain has won a Grand Slam singles title. Fred J. Perry took the Wimbledon singles title in 1936, and despite a number of promising candidates over the years, the drought is getting on everyone's nerves across the water.

No one is edgier than Murray, who has come tantalizingly close, reaching three major finals, including this year's Australian Open and the 2008 U.S. Open.

Seven reporters from London's big newspapers are here, plus a few freelancers and BBC Radio. All were watching eagerly Wednesday when the No. 4 seed met Somdev Devvarman, a two-time NCAA singles champion, in the first round.

Murray was pushed early but maintained control and won 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-3.

Murray is certainly the most gifted active male player without a Grand Slam singles title on his résumé. It can be argued that you could replace the qualifier "active" with "all time." Murray has won seven ATP World Tour Masters titles -- two more than Marcelo Rios and one more than Andrei Medvedev, who are next in the Slam-less line -- and has a diverse arsenal and an impressive tactical approach.

Two things, according to Harman, have prevented Murray from breaking through against No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer.

"You have to say that the serve, at that level, isn't good enough," Harman said. "He doesn't hit his spots often enough. The other issue is that he is still hesitant to use his forehand as an aggressive weapon. If those two things clicked, he'd be right there."

And maybe you'd see the burgeoning confidence that visited Djokovic when his game started coming together late last year. Murray is still only 24 years old -- the same age as Djokovic -- and for the record, this has been his best season at the majors. He lost to Djokovic in the final at the Australian Open, then fell to Nadal in the semifinals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Nadal would await in these semifinals again -- if Murray can get past 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, among others. Murray, slightly injured and a bit tired, lost to Stanislas Wawrinka in the third round here last year. Murray says he's fresher this year, and he looked pretty good winning two weeks ago in Cincinnati.

"He's searching," Harman said. "I think it will happen someday. I want to write that story more than anything -- not for me, for him. He's a great lad."

2. New York is a tough room: Nadal is the defending champion here, but the rabid media were all over him after he needed nearly three hours to take down Andrey Golubev on Tuesday night.

Rafa lost his serve only five times a year ago. Golubev took six service games. Was he concerned?

"Is impossible to win this year," Nadal said, drawing a good laugh. "No, I am joking. My serve is never going to be huge -- I know that. In my opinion, was not the fault of my serve. Sometimes, I hit very good serves, 126, 128, and the ball came back unbelievably fast."

Rafa admittedly was nervous before that opening match.

"The confidence doesn't come like this," he said, snapping his fingers. "You have to find your confidence. The confidence is spending hours on court, competing better, winning matches. Today was one of those matches."

3. Unfair advantage for Federer? Murray is not happy with the schedule makers at the U.S. Open, he told Sky Sports.

Because he didn't get on court until Wednesday, Murray would have to win seven matches in 12 days to be crowned champion as opposed to the 14 days afforded Federer, who played on Day 1. Murray is looking at an every-other-day schedule, while Federer, at some point, should get two consecutive days off.

4. Rafa letting his fingers do the talking: The hot-plate incident at a Japanese restaurant in Cincinnati is still reverberating.

Nadal burned the index and middle fingers on his right hand while reaching for some food a few weeks ago, and his discomfort while hitting his two-handed backhand was evident. Although he wasn't grimacing in his first-round match, he wasn't getting his typical depth, either.

"The fingers are much better," Rafa said. "Is not 100 percent OK, but are much better. So the problem is not the blisters right now."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.