ANDY Murray is a happy man. He is through to the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open in the luxurious surroundings of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and he is playing well. All is well with his world.
Whatever happens today against Adrian Mannarino, the Frenchman ranked No 38 in the world, is not important. Of course Murray wants to win but he is too long in the tooth to look forward to the latter stages of the competition when he is still in the early rounds. What matters to him is that he is now reunited with his coach Amelie Mauresmo after her month away taking care of the French Fed Cup team. Now the two of them are back at work and following the plans they made during the off-season.
We’re doing nothing differently now that Amelie is here; we’re just trying to carry on in the same directionAndy Murray
“It’s been a good start here, but I don’t do that anymore: I don’t look ahead or think about winning events whilst I’m in the third round or the fourth round,” Murray said. “It’s just concentrate on the next match and try and beat whoever you are playing on that day.
“We’re doing nothing differently now that Amelie is here; we’re just trying to carry on in the same direction from the beginning of the year and what we’d spoken about in December. For me, it was not necessarily that I was trying to get away from that when she wasn’t there in February but it’s just that it’s a lot easier to carry on the work when she’s around.”
The difference in Murray’s demeanour both on and off the court here compared to just a handful of months ago is remarkable. Away from the practise and match courts, he is relaxed and cheery; on the court, he is aggressive and powerful. He still has the odd lapse – dropping the second set against Philipp Kohlschreiber on Monday during his 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 win was merely annoying rather than worrying – but for the most part, Murray looks to be in fine fettle in the Californian desert.
The next stage in his rehabilitation is being able to challenge the likes of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on a regular basis. He has not beaten any of them since his back surgery at the end of 2013 and he was not in a position to contend for the big titles again until this year. Even then, his loss to Djokovic in four sets at Melbourne Park was as disappointing as it was surprising. Mentally, he unravelled when he had Djokovic on the ropes.
Getting back to that peak form that will win him major championships is taking time but the season is still young. Physically able to take on a huge workload again, Murray is again mentally ready for the fight.
“I went through periods in my career where I was extremely consistent,” he said. “I think one year, I made at least the quarters or the semis of every tournament I played except in Rome – I remember losing to Monaco. That was the only time I didn’t reach the quarters or the semis. And, yeah, it’s tough. But I think it’s all about how you prepare for the tournaments, about making sure you get to tournaments early enough and making sure you get enough rest during the year so you don’t come into any of the events tired. And then, obviously, being really, really good helps as well [like Djokovic, Federer and Nadal]. Then if you’re not quite at your best, you’re still good enough to beat a lot of the players. That helps for sure.”
The tournament in California has been a stumbling block for Murray over the past six years. And when he has lost here, he has looked out of sorts, mentally or physically drained after tough defeats at the Australian Open. But this year, for all that the Melbourne final hurt, he is a different man. The stresses and strains of last season – the comeback from the back operation, the split with Ivan Lendl, the arguments in his team when he hired Mauresmo – are all forgotten.
With his off-court problems now resolved, he can concentrate on the things he loves most: working hard and playing tennis. As soon as he sorted out the personnel problems within his team, it was as if a huge cloud had been lifted and he was suddenly working and playing better. Even now, three months on, he is still enthusing about the work he was able to do during the off-season once he was freed of all the extra problems and distractions.
“For me, the off season in December was – it was fantastic,” he said. “Everyone approached it with a great attitude and energy. It was like a fresh start in many ways: I trained completely differently to the way I had been for the past few years, I changed a lot of the preparation in terms of the sort of weights I might have been doing. Everything. Just everything. I was doing fun things that were new and I enjoyed that – I like trying new things. I’m open minded like that and just having a different training and preparation programme for me has been very beneficial.”
As for Mannarino today, Murray has done his homework. He has never played the 26-year-old before but that does not matter.
“I watched him play a few times, I know about his game,” Murray said. “I feel like I have an idea of what his strengths are but, obviously, the way he plays against other players will be different maybe to how he plays against me. I’ll need to work some things out for myself when I get on the court.”
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