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Is gym time the answer for Murray?

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Originally published on: 21/09/10 11:28

YES, says Jamie Renton

Andy Murray described Rafael Nadal as one of the “greatest players ever” this week, and you’d have to be several screwdrivers short of a toolbox to argue any different.

It’s not that the nine-time Grand Slam champ is invincible, even if his 2010 record comes remarkably close to suggesting as much – but that he wins when it really counts. Nadal has won 59 matches this season, losing on just seven occasions. Two of those seven defeats came to the Scot. The first in Melbourne, when Murray outclassed, outwitted, out-volleyed, out-ran and fundamentally out-did Nadal, until the Spaniard was forced into a rare retirement after suffering a muscle tear beneath his knee.

Of course, the 24-year-old Mallorcan hadn’t yet found the form that would take him to his second Roland Garros-Wimbledon double. But when he did, Murray took him to the cleaners on a hard court again, beating him in straight sets – before inflicting the same result on Roger Federer – en route to defending his Rogers Cup title.

Here’s where the doubters perk up. “It wasn’t a Grand Slam,” “He’ll never do it on the big stage,” “He needs a money shot,” they’ll cry vehemently.

Murray himself seems to talk overwhelmingly about fitness. One look at Rafa’s rippled Ox-like physique and the 23-year-old is waxing lyrical about the need to hit the track.

“I need to get physically stronger, improve my game and then I’ll give myself the chance to beat him [Rafa],” the Scot added in an interview with BBC Sport yesterday.

Rarely do you hear other players place so much emphasis on fitness. For many, it’s an unspoken pre-requisite for them to take to court, the rest – the tactics, shot-selection and mind-games required to kill the game are their central focus. Not: ‘I’m gonna have to outlast this guy.’

Fact is, being one of the fitter guys out there helps his cause and it helps his mind. On top of the knowledge that he can run the extra yard and pack the extra punch, Murray has the game to beat both Federer and Nadal. He’ll chase, scurry and fire balls back in the court all day. And that, coupled with a first serve that was good enough for Nadal (with the assistance of Uncle Toni) to emulate, and his double-fisted backhand and clever court craft, Murray has enough weapons to win a slam.

He’s already beaten Nadal twice in major tournaments. The magnitude of the occasion prevented him from doing the same against Federer in finals at Flushing Meadows and Melbourne, but the Scot’s time will come.

Murray’s main stumbling block is the emphasis he places on knocking over Nadal and Federer. He holds them in such high-regard that he cannot help but enter the major tournaments with half an eye on beating the two that have long perched at the top of the tree.

Gym time and physical strength affords him a mental edge. Now he must wholly commit to the point-by-point, game-by-game mentality characteristic of the two men he so reveres.

 

NO, says Michael Beattie

First up, yes. Andy Murray needs to stay in the gym maintaining the towering physique that has rightly been.

But should that be priority No.1 on his to-do list? No: finding a coach, clearly, fills that spot. Murray is currently sifting through the CVs, hoping to enlist the right candidate in time for his next tournament outing in Beijing.

“A few people have offered to help me, and there are definitely a few guys I would be interested in working with,” he said in a recent interview with The Telegraph. “I would go for a former great player or a coach who has worked with great players in the past, someone with a lot of experience at the top of the game.”

That last phrase – experience at the top of the game – might be telling, or simply a standard issue sporting cliché, it’s hard to tell. Murray has always been cocksure of the way he wants to play his tennis, which is why his previous set-up suited him so well. Miles Maclagan can rightly be credited with helping Murray reach two Grand Slam finals, as well as the highest ranking achieved by a Brit since the ATP computer was introduced, but his role always seemed more advisory than dictatorial, more co-worker than boss.

So it came as little surprise that Murray coped with the transitional period following Maclagan’s departure admirably, defending his Rogers Cup title in Toronto. In the grander scheme of things, little had changed. But then came New York.

The world No.4 has been a contender for the big prizes for what seems like years now, at least at three of the four Grand Slams. Those two finals are all the evidence anybody needs to see that, physically, Murray is there, right where he needs to be, ready for the rigours of seven best-of-fives over a fortnight.

There’s no argument against gym time contributing to that success: it has made Murray a contender for every tournament he enters. But the weights alone cannot land him the titles he so desperately wants. Mental strength is at the heart of that.

In the aftermath of his US Open defeat to Stanislas Wawrinka, Murray stopped talking a good fight. He seemed as dizzy and flat in the press conference as he had on court, at one point saying, “I just didn’t feel great and it’s my fault that I didn’t”.

More worrying, however, was his switch in attitude about winning a major. “I have no idea of whether I’ll win a Grand Slam or not,” he confessed. “I want to. But, you know, I mean, if I never win one, then what? If I give a hundred percent, try my best, physically work as hard as I can, practice as much as I can, then that’s all I can do.

“It’s something I would love to do,” he added. “It’s a very difficult thing. But, uhm, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ll win a Grand Slam or not. But I’ll give it my best shot.”

There has arguably never been a harder time to win a Grand Slam – this much is true. But that’s for the hacks to decide, even if they (or maybe that should be ‘we’) are in part to blame for the unique pressure that rests on his shoulders, the pressure of a nation desperate for him to end an embarrassingly barren spell without a Grand Slam champion.

If Murray is to buck the trend and become just the second player other than Federer or Nadal to win a major in three seasons, then yes he needs to be stronger – mentally. There is no room for doubt in his mind, which is why the next addition to his entourage could be the most crucial decision of his career.

With his physical conditioning managed down to a tee, Murray needs a coach who can prepare him for the hard yards upstairs. A coach he can look up to and listen to, and one who can tell it like it is.

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