ACCORDING to one school of thought it is best to ease your way into long tournaments. Go through the gears steadily, is the advice; don't peak too soon.
• Murray is hoping to claim his first Grand Slam title
Certainly, major events in team sports are littered with examples of sides which excelled early on then faded badly, and with instances of countries which barely made it through the early stages only to come good when it mattered most.
In an individual sport such as tennis, however, not peaking too soon can mean having your energy sapped over four or five-set matches in the opening rounds – energy which you may need badly when it comes to the crunch. In football the game lasts 90 minutes no matter how well you are playing: in tennis, the better you are faring the sooner you are off court, into an ice bath and beginning preparations for your next round.
Which is one reason why, as he looks forward to his opening match at Wimbledon tomorrow, Andy Murray aims to hit his top form straightaway. After some poor recent results he may also be seeking the element of reassurance which playing at your best can bring, but essentially his desire to perform at his optimal level from the off is about being as professional as possible for as long as possible.
"I hope I start playing my best from the start," he said. "Most years, even if I haven't been playing that well going in to Wimbledon, I have played well there. Most of my results have been good, and I feel comfortable playing there.
"I always enjoy being at Wimbledon. I hope that when I play on Centre Court again that I'll feel great."
The 23-year-old Scot has not felt great on a tennis court too often recently. Since reaching the final of the Australian Open at the start of the year he has been in inspired form only rarely against anyone, and arguably not at all against really top-notch opponents. But he is happy with the way he has prepared for this year's championships – and indeed, would argue that he is currently in the state when he tends to give of his best.
"Australia went great, and obviously playing matches does help, but if you look at when I have played some of my best tennis it has come after long breaks, of actually not playing many matches, like after Wimbledon last year and after the US Open the year before that," he said. "And obviously Australia this year we didn't play for six weeks.
"Every slam is obviously a bit different because of the way you prepare at that time of the year they come at. For this one, it's going to be slightly different to Australia, but I like to work really hard because that's what makes me feel good."
If at times he has looked a shade jaded – against Mardy Fish at Queen's, for instance, or Tomas Berdych at Roland Garros – Murray is confident it has not been through lack of desire. Instead, he hinted that his problem might simply be failing to live up to the extremely high levels of consistency which Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the top and second seeds respectively, have reached over the past few years.
"I don't feel as though motivation is an issue. I think it would be a worry if I don't want to work hard. The last month or so, it has been a lot better, but it is very difficult to peak throughout the whole year.
"That's why what Rafa does is incredible. And Roger too, though he tends to take longer breaks than Rafa. He plays well pretty much every week. Last year, I did that pretty well. It's quite tiring. I do love tennis, and I've made a lot of sacrifices to play the sport. It's a difficult sport to play when you're younger.
"It isn't the most important thing in my life. I've said that for the last three or four years. Family, friends and everyone are the most important things to me.
"I do think about life a lot. I don't think anyone can question my work rate when I'm training and practising. I have a goal of what I want to do in the sport, and that's to win a grand slam. I would love to win many of them, and that's why I work hard to do.
"It's been important to me for a long time. When I played the juniors, I wanted to win the junior grand slams.
"When I moved into the seniors, when you play in them for the first time you start to understand how special they are. It becomes your priority throughout the year, but when you first come on the tour, every tournament is huge and you love it, you love being around all the top players and you love watching them and being in the locker room with Federer and (Andy] Roddick and Rafa.
"It's great. The slams are very important to me, and have been for the last few years. I want to win one."
Besides wanting to win one, Murray also believes he can win one. He accepts, however, that Federer, who is aiming to equal Pete Sampras's tally of seven Wimbledon titles, has to be the man to beat. "It's a pretty incredible record, so he's obviously going to be the favourite going into Wimbledon. Roddick usually plays so well at Queen's and didn't this year. Rafa, you wouldn't expect him to lose to (Feliciano] Lopez, but he could have been a bit tired. I lost in the third to a good grass-court player (Mardy Fish].
"It's very difficult. Rafa will probably go in the most confident because of the results that he has had this year, and being the No 1 in the world. It's tough to look at grass-court form so far as it's only one tournament." Between travel and practice, Murray has little time to spend on other pursuits, but his life is not quite all work and no play. He has a Ferrari, for instance, which he loves driving, but for the fact that it does not quite square with his preference for a bit of privacy.
"Driving the car is unbelievable – it's great. It's an unbelievable car and I really enjoy it," he said. "I just don't really like getting out of it. You could say that it's a poseur's car and I don't really like drawing attention to myself. I love driving the car, but I don't like what goes with it so I don't really drive it as much as I would like to."
Murray hasn't been winning matches as much as he would like to recently either. But that, he is sure, is about to change.
baltacha going for glory at wimbledon, page 5