FOLLOWING a good start to the season on the hard courts, Andy Murray will this week embark on what is, historically, the most trying period of the year for him.
The new world No.2 has shown improvement on the red clay over the past couple of years and while he has admitted it is never likely to become his favoured surface, they have certainly developed a better working relationship.
“He prefers the others but that doesn’t mean he can’t handle it,” says his mother Judy. “He has made the semis of the French so he showed he can play well on clay.”
The breakthrough came in 2011, when Murray, pictured right, enjoyed runs to the semi-finals in three of the four ATP clay events he contested, Rafael Nadal halting his progress one step away from the final in Monte Carlo and then, more pertinently, again at the French Open.
He followed that up with a trio of quarter-final appearances last year, including in Paris. But Roland Garros remains the only slam final to have eluded the Scot.
Since winning the Miami masters event at the end of last month, he has been training on the red clay courts at Boca Raton in preparation for the next four events.
“He came back from Miami last night,” said Judy, on Thursday, “and then straight out to Monte Carlo. But because it is a Masters series and he has a bye, he won’t start until Tuesday or Wednesday so he will have a few days to get used to the conditions at the club. He is in very good shape and he has had a great start to the year and he is in good spirits.”
While every surface requires modifications in playing styles, the switch to clay can be the most demanding but history suggests Murray is now finding it easier to adapt.
“A lot of it on clay is the movement but it’s also the mentality,” says his mum. “The rallies are obviously longer and the ball is kicking up over your shoulders and you have to play the ball in slightly different positions than you would on a hard court. It is very, very different from the grass but he has the legs, the energy and he knows he has Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid to prepare for Paris so he has plenty of opportunity to get himself ready. He is definitely one of the fittest players on the tour and you could see that in the Miami final. I guess it’s just getting used to the way the ball comes off the surface and playing the ball at a slightly higher height than you would on a hard court.”
That’s the things he and coach Ivan Lendl have been addressing in training over the past weeks. The relationship between Murray and clay is one that has required work but, as he heads towards the second major of the year, it’s one that certainly seems a lot more harmonious.