Andy Murray faces hard choices ahead of Davis Cup final

Andy Murray during his Paris Masters quarter-final against Richard Gasquet when the Scot admitted he played in pain. Picture: Getty
Andy Murray during his Paris Masters quarter-final against Richard Gasquet when the Scot admitted he played in pain. Picture: Getty
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It is a good job that Andy Murray works with a psychiatrist from time to time as, for the next three weeks, he will be living a schizophrenic life: preparing for the ATP World Tour Finals on a clay court; going to the clay courts of the Davis Cup final having just completed the biggest hard court event on the ATP tour.

But no matter how hard he has to work in the next three weeks and how chaotic his working days may become, his only concern is the Davis Cup.

I think the way that I’m preparing for the 02 is not ideal. I don’t think any of the players would prepare for an event this way… I don’t think anyone would go and practise on clay for four or five days

Andy Murray

For him, this is, potentially, a once-in-a -lifetime opportunity. Britain have not reached the final since 1978 (when they were clobbered 5-0 by the USA) and have not won a final since 1936, the heady days of Fred Perry.

Yesterday, his bags barely unpacked from his week in Paris at the BNP Paribas Masters, Murray was working through his first clay-court practice session at Queen’s Club in London. He will stay on the red dirt for most of the week before performing a swift about-face and getting back on the hard courts to get ready for the Tour Finals which start on Sunday.

Ordinarily, the Tour finals would be one of the highlights of Murray’s year – it is the goal most of the big players set themselves at the start of the season. Only the top eight qualify so to claim a ticket to the tournament means the season has been a success. But this year, Murray’s mind is elsewhere and if he feels any aches or pains that could put his Davis Cup ambitions in danger, he will withdraw from the London event.

“My plan is to play the O2,” Murray said cautiously, “but if I get injured in the next couple of days or something happens to my back in the next three or four days then, obviously, I won’t play. But if I’m fit and healthy and the next three or four days go well, then, yeah, I’ll be there practising at the O2 from Friday.

“I think the way that I’m preparing for the O2 is not ideal. I don’t think any of the players would prepare for an event this way. Before the Australian Open, I don’t think anyone would go and practise on clay for four or five days. I think I need to be realistic and try not to be too hard on myself. I’ve tried to balance or, I don’t know, juggle the two so that I don’t have to miss the O2 but also give myself a good chance of playing well at the Davis Cup so it’s important that I’m realistic and not too hard on myself and don’t just expect to play great tennis at the start of the O2 as soon as I switch back on to the hard courts. And I just have to kind of respect the whole process of what it is I’m going to be doing over the next week or so. I need to respect what the change to the clay can do to my body and then also what it can do to your game – moving from clay to hard courts – because it’s completely different movement.”

The one concern is Murray’s back. Although his back has been in decent nick since he had surgery two years ago to repair a chronic injury, he treats any niggle or any problem with care and respect.

In Paris he was in pain in his quarter-final match with Richard Gasquet and playing five days in a row without a chance to rest did not help matters.

Now, with the sudden change to the clay courts, a transition that has always aggravated his back problems in the past, Murray is being even more careful than usual.

“It was sort of the right side of my back that tightened up here in Paris and it’s normally been the left side that is where I’ve had the issues, so I’m not really concerned about that,” Murray said.

“But I’m always fairly cautious when I get on to the clay and I do respect that sort of change of surface now because I know it’s been tricky for me in the past, but I think I’ve got the right formula or balance with my practising and training and stretching – especially this year – to make it better.

“I’ll hit quite a lot of balls in the next few days. Maybe Monday will be quite light just to get used to the moving and also because I’ve played five days in a row in Paris.

“Tuesday I’ll do, I would think, an hour and a half, two hours, quite intense and then Wednesday/Thursday I think will be very hard training – playing a lot of points and lot of moving and a lot of basket drills for the patterns of play that I’ll be trying to use on the clay court.”

And then on Friday, he will scamper across London to get his first practise session at the O2 Arena.

It may not be the perfect preparation for the ATP’s end-of-season jamboree, but it is the best Murray can do if he is going to bring the Davis Cup back to Britain for the first time in almost 80 years.