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In the firing line with Andy Murray

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BBC man dodges monster Murray serves

By Piers Newbery

It occurs to me as I sway edgily from side to side and peer at the man preparing to serve that I haven't really thought this through.

After the last few weeks, Andy Murray might just relish getting a journalist in his sights as he winds up a 130mph serve.

Fortunately, the world number four is in relaxed, chatty and, most importantly, sympathetic mood as he puts a few of us through our rather leaden paces as part of a media day in west London.

His fitness trainer Matt Little, mum Judy and hitting partner Dani Vallverdu help out with some warm-up exercises and on-court drills before we get the chance to face the Murray serve - an experience available to the public in both Edinburgh and London later this year.

It's at this point that I start to regret the numerous reports in which I've suggested the British number one needs to up his first-serve percentage and pace - a couple of gentle looseners would be fine, really.

The 23-year-old Scot is in fine form after spending the last couple of weeks dividing his time between training and taking in several Premier League matches, including a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday to see Manchester United against Liverpool.

The Telegraph's Mark Hodgkinson, Andy Murray and BBC Sport's Piers Newbery
Andy Murray does his best to convey how to play world-class tennis

Murray cuts a very different figure to the man who struggled to explain his third-round loss to Stanislas Wawrinka at the US Open earlier this month, when he ran out of gas alarmingly over four sets.

"Physically, I wasn't great and that's what I was most disappointed with," he says. "I've been very strong in that area for the last few years and it let me down a little bit, so I need to make sure I work hard, get myself in great shape again and hopefully I'll give myself another chance."

Asked if he knows exactly what the specific physical problems were that day, he can only say, "I don't".

Ten minutes in the company of fitness trainer Little suggest that the issue would not have been brushed off so easily in the days that followed the defeat.

This is a man who measures the salt content of Murray's sweat and keeps track of every calorie consumed by the player - but it seems that whatever happened that day in New York will remain a mystery, for now at least.

His more immediate concern lies in finding a new coach, with the search continuing, and trying to bridge the gap to the all-conquering Rafael Nadal.

"I want to improve a lot," says Murray. "I need to get physically stronger, improve my game and then I'll give myself the chance to beat him."

Top players must match Nadal - Murray

Well, what better way to prepare for future battles with Nadal than limbering up against the 1988 Broadstairs & St Peters boys' singles champion?

Half an hour in the company of Judy Murray has me well drilled in turning my shoulders and bending my knees, with the results immediately clear as at least one forehand and one volley find their mark.

A "good shot" from Andy has me seriously considering calling it quits and immediately announcing my retirement - a suitable bookend to that memorable day in Broadstairs 22 years ago - but there is no avoiding my fate.

As I take up my position and struggle to come to terms with the surreal experience of seeing a Grand Slam finalist on the other side of the net, Judy begins drawing back the netting that separates the adjacent court.

"We're going to need a bit more room," she says. "These courts aren't really big enough for the top players."

Oh dear. I've always found tennis courts to be quite big enough for my game, if anything slightly too big.

"To give you a chance, you can tell Andy which side you want him to serve to," she adds with a smile that suggests I have absolutely no chance whatsoever.

Judy Murray and BBC Sport's Piers Newbery
Judy Murray attempts the impossible in getting those knees to bend

Andy then gives us a glimpse of his competitive nature when a couple of opening efforts go long or find the net and draw the familiar self-admonishments of "Come on!" and "Oh, Andy!", none of which helps me relax as he winds up a third attempt.

And then it's all over. A quick look at the video says all that needs to be said but there are only three people on the planet better at tennis than Andy Murray, and it's quickly apparent I am not one of them.

"It's much faster than it looks on the television, isn't it?" says a sympathetic Judy.

Faster, heavier, deeper, wider... like a fast bowler's express delivery, the ball is on and past me before my racquet is halfway through its swing.

An ace down the 'T' follows before a flailing arm manages to at least connect with one out wide as the Toronto Masters champion takes the pace off.

One more to come, and I'm going to get a look at the much-discussed Murray second serve. An earlier daydream of stepping in and taking it on has long since been abandoned but I'm hopeful of getting this one back...

Instead, it's the tastiest of the lot, catching the back of the service line, rearing up over my laboured backhand swing and endangering both myself and the cameraman behind me.

Nadal would have struggled with that one, honest, and with the British number one's confidence now flooding back, my work is done.

  • The UK public will also get a chance to face Andy Murray's serve later this year as part of an RBS Andy Murray Experience.


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    see also
    I need to get stronger - Murray
    21 Sep 10 |  Tennis
    Murray baffled by US Open defeat
    06 Sep 10 |  Tennis
    Andy Murray column
    04 Sep 10 |  Tennis
    Murray sees off Federer in final
    15 Aug 10 |  Tennis


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