There used to be a time when wherever Novak Djokovic went, Andy Murray followed.
Born just a week apart, the two men started out on the road to fame and fortune together but it was the Serb who was the first to win a grand slam title (in Australia in 2008) and it was the Serb who first forced his way to the No 1 spot in the world rankings in 2011 as he swept all before him.
Djokovic is still the top man as the US Open approaches but these days, Murray is happy to plough his own furrow as he chases his third grand slam trophy. Safe in the knowledge that he knows how to beat the world No 1 in a major final – he did it here last year and again at Wimbledon just a couple of months ago – the Scot is leaving his old rival to fiddle and faddle with new-fangled diets while Murray relies on hard work and talent to win him the titles he craves.
Two years ago, the Scot tried Djokovic’s gluten-free regime, cutting bread, pasta and dairy products from his diet. Djokovic claimed such healthy eating had given him a new lease of life but when Murray tried it, it had the reverse effect and he abandoned the experiment after a few months. He may not have become a pasta junkie since then but he has come to the conclusion that a balanced diet and a ferocious work ethic are more than enough to fuel his grand slam ambitions.
“The last couple of years I went on the gluten-free thing, I tried it for a couple of months and felt awful,” Murray said. “I lost all my energy and felt so weak. I didn’t feel it helped me at all. So I just went back to doing what I did before and it was working fine for me so I haven’t changed that too much since.
“In terms of nutrition and what I am eating I am not on a specific diet. I eat healthy food but it’s not something specific before a match. Last night I had red meat, the night before chicken and the night before that fish. I am just trying to make sure I am not eating the same things a few days in a row.
“When it comes to stuff on court, making sure you get the right electrolytes in places like this where it’s so hot and humid you can be drinking six to seven and a half litres in a match so you want to know the stuff you are drinking is replacing what you are losing. It’s not possible to get through a match just drinking water.”
The conditions in New York can be brutal and they can change in a matter of hours. From a damp and blustery morning, the temperature and humidity can rise and by mid-afternoon, the players feel as if they are working out in a sauna.
They have to be prepared for anything in the Big Apple but, over the years, Murray has learned that no amount of supplements and vitamin tonics can replace the hours of hard graft done in the gym and on the practise court. The US Open is all about the survival of the fittest.
“All those things are important,” Murray said, “making sure you are getting those energy gels and energy drinks on the court but nothing replaces the work you do in the gym. If you don’t do that and find a good energy drink, it won’t make any difference. You need to put the work in off the court, in the gym and if you do that you give yourself a good chance. But once you get to these events with the climate as it can be, you need to make sure you are drinking the right things and getting the right energy on board to get through a four-and-a-half hour match.”
The US Open starts on Monday and Murray will begin the defence of his title against Michael Llodra but Djokovic will be waiting for him further down the line in the semi-finals.
And having outlasted the Serb over five sets here last year and having dominated him over three sets to win Wimbledon, Murray will be the man to follow in the coming couple of weeks.