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Murray on a mission

AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Venue: Melbourne Park Date: 19 January-1 February
Coverage: BBC Red Button, BBC One & Two (including all Murray's matches), Radio 5 Live sports extra, BBC Sport website (Red Button coverage streamed on website throughout fortnight)

Andy Murray (Photo credit: andymurray.com)
Murray trained in Miami during December (Photo: andymurray.com)

By Caroline Cheese & Piers Newbery

Andy Murray has been here before.

A year ago, he headed to the Australian Open brimming with confidence having captured the Qatar Open title - and was sent packing in the first round by eventual finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

But this year has a very different feel. A brilliant second half to last season and a similar start to this has seen Murray become Australian Open favourite in some people's eyes, and with good reason.

Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski spent their whole careers carrying the weight of British men's long and dismal record in Grand Slam tournaments, but Murray appears unburdened by history.

He made his first Grand Slam final at last year's US Open and his winter training has been tailored to going one better by giving him a bigger serve, greater speed and heavier groundstrokes.

BBC Sport examines why the 21-year-old Scot looks ready to end Britain's 73-year wait for a successor to Fred Perry in 2009.

THE FORM PLAYER

Andy Murray's form is better than that of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic since Wimbledon 2008

Murray is the tour's most feared player.

Since Wimbledon last year, he has beaten world number three Novak Djokovic twice, world number two Roger Federer three times and world number one Rafael Nadal once - a win which took him into the US Open final.

That does not take into account the exhibition event in Abu Dhabi at the start of this year where he beat Federer and Nadal in consecutive matches.

"Fear has never really been a problem for me. It's about a better understanding of what you need to do," Murray said recently.

"When you have played them a few times you get the right mindset and you're pretty calm going in. Each time I play against them now I know what I need to do, and I just try my best to do it."

MURRAY'S MUSCLES

Like last year, Murray spent the off-season in Florida working on his speed, endurance and strength.

He trained for three weeks, six days a week, with 'Team Murray' at the University of Miami in December to lay the foundations for 2009, with the aim of putting on three to four kilos of muscle.

"This means lifting weights and consuming extra calories and protein in order to help the muscles repair themselves stronger and, in turn, slightly heavier," strength and conditioning coach Jez Green told BBC Sport.

I'm sure Andy would want to improve his fitness each year without fail

Jez Green
Strength and conditioning coach

Training included a huge variety of activities, from hitting balls to punishing sets of sprints, longer runs, weights, on-court drills, football, yoga...

"The programme is highly structured so it changes at regular intervals, both to stop the body getting flat and also to stop the athlete getting bored," said Green.

A leading player can run up to 10km in the course of a five-set match and the programme reflects the very specific demands of tennis.

"Running 200m and 400m targets the relevant energy systems for tennis better than steady state longer runs so they will make you perform better and longer in specific match conditions," said Green.

"They also tend to challenge tennis players mentally more than just running long distances and they build physical confidence."

Andy Murray (Photo credit: andymurray.com)
Murray can do 24 chin-ups - easily (Photo: andymurray.com)
The programme is tailored specifically to Murray's needs as the result of hours of video analysis of his matches.

The prevention of injuries, which dogged the early part of Murray's career, is a key element.

"A major part of the programme is preventative," said Green. "He does some kind of core work every day to make sure the stabilising muscles are functioning correctly.

"He also stretches every day and when possible will do yoga once a week to make sure the muscles have re-established their normal length after a tough training session or match."

And the effort will continue throughout the season, with training of some kind every day and, in weeks between tournaments, at 100%.

"Tennis is too tough a sport to stop training," said Green. "I'm sure Andy would want to improve his fitness each year without fail."

ON-COURT IMPROVEMENT
Anyone who has watched Murray in the opening days of 2009 will have seen the Scot display the kind of all-court ability that very few of his rivals can match.

With greater strength has come a much-improved serve that overshadowed both Roger Federer and Andy Roddick in Qatar.

"In the last two sets against Federer I served very well," said Murray.

"And when I got behind against Roddick I served very well. On the big points I didn't give him too many chances to hit winners and when that happens it makes life easier."

I don't have as much power as as some of the other players so I need to use my brain a little bit more to win points

Andy Murray
Murray was often content to rally from the baseline in his early days, and only last year Federer accused him of "waiting for his opponents to miss".

But the British number one has finally got the balance right between employing the natural variety in his game and stepping up the aggression when necessary.

"My game is a little bit more complicated than just playing at the baseline, because I try to use slice shots," he said.

"I don't have as much power as as some of the other players so I need to use my brain a little bit more to win points. It just takes a little bit more time."

And as Murray's mother, Judy, told BBC Sport, there is more to come as his physical work continues to pay off.

"As he gets stronger and he's creating bigger shots from the back of the court, he'll create more opportunities to come forward," she said.

"I think we'll see him doing a lot more of that this year."

A WINNING ATTITUDE

Andy Murray
Murray's self-defeating tantrums are a thing of the past
Tim Henman jokingly referred to his friend as a "miserable git" in May last year and, while the Scot will never shed his naturally sardonic nature, even his own mother has noticed a change in his on-court attitude.

"I think the mental side has improved along with the physical side," Judy told BBC Sport.

"He's very confident in being able to stay out there and sustain the long rallies and not get frustrated even when things are not going right.

"Also, he's 21 now, he's been on the circuit for about three years and I think the further he's gone up the ladder and seen how the other top players behave, that has to have had an influence as well."

TEAM MURRAY
MILES MACLAGAN (Coach)
Zambia-born Maclagan reached a career-high world ranking of 172 and played three Davis Cup ties for Britain
MATT LITTLE (Strength/conditioning)
Responsible for fitness training, injury prevention and stretching routines
JEZ GREEN (Strength/conditioning)
Plans Murray's fitness programme with Little
ANDY IRELAND (Physio)
Helps with recovery after matches and training sessions as well as injuries
LOUIS CAYER (Consultant)
Provides tactical and technical input when required

Murray will never be the 'perfect gentleman' Henman was perceived to be - he continues to utter the occasional 'audible obscenity' and is not afraid to show his frustration after a wayward shot.

But since Wimbledon last year, Murray appears to have discovered an inner calm.

Part of his newfound serenity can be attributed to the team of experts he assembled following his split with previous coach Brad Gilbert.

"All of them are very effective in what they do," said Judy.

"But they're also great fun to be with off the court. That makes a huge difference. When you're on the road 30-35 weeks of the year, you really need to be around people who can make that fun for you."

WHAT THOSE IN THE KNOW SAY

"Andy has carried his form over from the last four months and he has a good chance to win in Australia."
World number one Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal
World number one Nadal has lost his last two matches against Murray
"If the question is whether Murray is going to win a Grand Slam, then 'yes'. As the years go by, his chances increase because he is becoming a better player."
World number two Roger Federer

"I think I'm in a majority of people when I say it's a question of when, not if, he wins a Grand Slam."
World number eight Andy Roddick

"I think he has a great chance, at least as good as anyone's. His fitness levels have got better. The only thing he might struggle with is the heat.''
Former world number one John McEnroe

"He's a favourite of mine. I believe he has the potential to win a Grand Slam and is beginning to come into his own. He may have to add a little bit more of coming to the net to put a bit more pressure on the opponent as he's a damn good volleyer."
American coach Nick Bollettieri

"He got to number four in the world but the way he was playing at the end of the year, you think in 12 months' time he'll be close to number one. I wouldn't be surprised to see Andy Murray win the Australian Open. In my mind, he could be the guy that will step up and win."
Australian Davis Cup coach and former Aussie Open champion John Newcombe

AND THE HISTORY...

Andy Murray (left) and Fred Perry
Murray is aiming to follow Fred Perry's triumph at the 1936 US Open
The last time Great Britain had a Grand Slam champion in men's singles, Arsenal made up for the disappointment of finishing behind the likes of Brentford and Huddersfield in the league by winning the FA Cup.

Sliced bread had been in UK shops for a mere six years, King Edward VIII gave up his throne, while in Germany Chancellor Adolf Hitler was honing his plans for a very different Europe.

Fred Perry, former world table tennis champion, defeated Aussie Jack Crawford 6-3 11-13 4-6 6-0 6-1 to win the US Open, adding to the Wimbledon title he had claimed earlier in the season.

And then came a drought of 73 years and counting.

I do understand what a big deal it would be if someone from Britain did win a Slam

Andy Murray
Since 1936, only three men have even made it as far as a Grand Slam singles final: John Lloyd at the 1977 Aussie Open, Greg Rusedski at the 1997 US Open and Murray himself in New York last year.

"It has been so long since a British tennis player has won a Slam," said Murray. "I'd love to win a Grand Slam, but it might not happen.

"You have to try to forget about all the history. It is not of benefit if you are going on the court worrying about those sort of things. You have to put them to the back of your mind.

"I do understand what a big deal it would be if someone from Britain did win a Slam, but I'm still very young so I'm not putting any added pressure on myself to win this Australian Open.

"I'm going to enjoy being one of the favourites and give it my best. I've got a lot more Grand Slams to play. I'm really chilled out."

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see also
Murray turns up the heat
22 May 08 |  Tennis
The Murray machine
07 Aug 07 |  Tennis


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