ANDY Murray is a changed man. For a start, he is sunburned to a crisp – and you could fry an egg on his forehead – but the tall, slightly puce Scot is settling into life in Indian Wells with a cheery smile, a relaxed attitude and a keen appetite to do well.
In the next three weeks, he has two Masters series events on his favoured American hard courts to look forward to – here and in Miami. However, more importantly, he has the clay court season to prepare for before his grand return to Wimbledon in June. And Murray is already thinking about those two weeks in SW19.
In the past couple of years, Scotland’s finest has arrived in the Californian desert still smarting from his defeats at the Australian Open and, a month on from leaving Melbourne, he could not shake the memories of his losses. But this year, despite losing in the final just six weeks ago to Novak Djokovic, he seems more optimistic than ever.
He spent the whole of February getting himself ready for this hard court swing, training himself to a standstill with Ivan Lendl in Miami, and with all the hard work done, he thinks he is ready for anything. He will need to be, too, as there is precious little time for rest or recovery between now and the end of Wimbledon. The tour will take him from America straight back to Europe and the clay court season. The second he is finished on the red dirt, he will be flung into the build-up to Wimbledon. No matter – Murray is ready.
“I want to do well in Indian Wells,” he said simply. “I want to do well at every tournament this year which, I think, I would have always said before but I wouldn’t necessarily have given myself the best chance.
“This is the first time I’ve done it like this [taking February off to train], so I’m obviously training and preparing as best I can for this stretch here and in Miami and then building up to the clay court season because it’s obviously an extremely physical part of the year for me. So getting that training block done now will hopefully help me during the clay as well.
“Before I won the US Open, I was viewing every grand slam as the same, the last few years, because I hadn’t won one and I was desperate to try and win one.
“I think, now, I’ll approach every grand slam the same way after, but what happened at Wimbledon last year and the Olympics, and everything I’ve experienced there over the last few years, I think over time it will mean more and more to me. I’ll try and do my best again this year but it’s a tough competition to win.”
Having spent most of the season so far with his charge, Lendl has opted not to come to California this week. He never liked the Indian Wells tournament as a player and seems not to have altered his opinion of the place since he retired. Not that Murray cares – not only does he have Dani Vallverdu, his best friend and his assistant coach, to advise him this week, he has also spent more time with Lendl over the past few weeks than ever before.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with Ivan since the beginning of the year,” Murray said. “Almost every time I’ve been on the court, it’s been with him, until I got here, so that’s been great. I haven’t always had that. In the last three months, I’ve spent a good six, seven weeks, which is a lot of time compared to what I spent with him last year. Even when I started working with him last year, there was hardly any time in the year I could train because of the Olympics.
“I’ve got to spend a bit more time with him on the court this year, which is good, and whether he’s here or not, the work we did in Miami will hopefully be paying off.”
As for Vallverdu, he and Lendl have formed an impressive double act: Lendl may be the star attraction but Vallverdu is still key to Murray’s coaching.
“Dani’s been with me now a long time, through my best years he’s been with me,” Murray said. “All of my biggest moments. Ivan wasn’t there during the Olympics, Dani was there – that was important.
“It was my first big, big tournament win and I had a few issues during it, during the Olympics there, and he dealt with everything extremely well. He’s a very, very mature guy and he’s extremely organised.
“I talk through tactics with him before all of the matches and I hit with him as well. Like, if there’s something I want to work on that I don’t want the whole tour to see, he hits the ball well, and I can practice my returns and all sorts with him. So it works well.”
There is a spring in Murray’s step this week and despite the fact that he has not won a singles match here since 2010, he is clearly looking forward to his opening round on Sunday.
He is eager to do well but even if he doesn’t, he knows he has never been better prepared for his assault on the tournaments that really matter: the French Open and Wimbledon.
And by that time, the sunburn may even have turned into a tan.