WHERE his big brother goes, Andy Murray is determined to follow.
And now that Jamie has won his eighth career title, partnering John Peers to beat the all-conquering Bryan brothers 1-6, 7-6, 12-10 in Saturday’s final of the US men’s Clay Court Championship, it is up to Andy to fly the Murray colours above the Monte Carlo Country club at the Rolex Masters this week.
No matter that the world No 2 is facing a wicked draw or that the coming few weeks represent his best chance to reel in Novak Djokovic at the top of the rankings, Andy has been keeping a close eye on his brother’s progress and looked absolutely delighted with the result.
“It was great,” Murray said, his eyes lighting up. “I tried to stay up to watch it. I went to bed at two-all in the second set. I just sent him a message in the second set saying ‘Whatever happens, it’s been a great week. I’m thinking of you.’ Then I woke up at like five in the morning and saw that he had won. It was great. He struggled for a little while, so to win a match like that against probably the best doubles team ever is a huge win for him.”
It would be a similarly huge result if Murray could get to his first clay court final this week. To do so, he would have to beat Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals and Rafael Nadal in the semis. And Nadal has not lost a match in the principality since 2003. If he can come through that little lot, Murray will be feeling pretty good about his chances at the French Open next month. Then again, he has been feeling good about them for a while now.
His climb to No 2 in the world rankings is due to his unwavering consistency over the past 12 months. He has reached the last three grand slam finals – and won one of them – and so far this year he has collected two titles and lost just two matches. And all the while, he has been planning his campaign for Roland Garros. “Even while I was practising on the hard courts, a lot of the things I’ve been working on were hopefully to help at the French Open,” Murray said.
“But right now, I’ve got three big tournaments that I want to use to go into the slams with momentum. It definitely helps on this surface, I think, more than the others for me. I’ll need to focus for each of the weeks, and the practice time for me is key, as well, on the clay.
“I’m in better shape physically because my back’s not an issue like it was last year. I felt better the last few days than I did coming into Monte Carlo last year.”
A year ago, Murray was gradually seizing up as his back got progressively worse as the season wore on. By the time he got to the Madrid Masters, he could stand it no longer and pulled out of the tournament as the doctors advised rest and a series of eight pain-killing injections (done using eight inch needles) to get him ready for Roland Garros. Once there, he almost came unstuck in the second round against Jarkko Nieminen when his back went into spasm, but he managed to plough on to reach the quarter-finals. This year, he is taking care of his back – no more football and golf on his days off – and he is physically fitter, tactically better and far more confident.
He started his clay court practice sessions in Florida just a few days after winning the Sony Open in Miami and arrived in Monte Carlo last Wednesday. Ivan Lendl will join him today and the two will plot their path from the Cote d’Azur via Madrid and Rome and on to Paris and Roland Garros.
“The way you try to construct points on the clay is different to the other surfaces,” Murray said. “Then also the way you move. But the movement now is not something that Ivan can necessarily help me with. It’s more the tactical side and the way I should be looking to play points. We spoke about that in Miami a lot. All of my practices are tailored for the way I need to play on clay. Then it’s up to me to go and execute it in the matches.”
And he will have to execute it exceptionally well this week if he is to reclaim the family bragging rights from his brother.