At first glance, they are like two peas in a pod. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, born one week apart, are identikit images of one another.
They play much the same way, they have been chasing each other around the globe for half a lifetime in pursuit of ranking points and prizes and, for most of that time, they have been wedged in beside each other in the rankings.
But for the past two years, Djokovic has been the world No 1 and, while Murray is firmly established as No 2, he has been in the Serb’s shadow.
Two weeks ago, they fought for the French Open title and, yet again, Djokovic came out on top.
Murray has now played in 10 grand slam finals and lost eight times, five of them to Djokovic. As the the third major championship of the season approaches, the Scot takes with him the memories of two grand slam final defeats to his nemesis already this year.
To try to break the cycle, Murray has re-employed Ivan Lendl as his coach – it was Lendl who led him to the US Open and Wimbledon titles, both times beating Djokovic – but he is also a leaner, meaner fighting machine this time.
No stone is left unturned as the Scot tries to improve and gain that extra one or two per cent that could push him over the finishing line so now he is working with a nutritionist to balance his diet as he takes on the best in the world.
Just a few weeks ago in Paris, Murray was struggling in the second round against Mathias Bourgue, a French wild card who had never played anyone inside the world’s top 50 before. A set and a couple of games to the good, Murray wilted but just about scraped through in five sets. But if his ground strokes were not looking too clever, he was feeling even worse. This, it transpired, was down to his eating habits. But all of that has now changed.
“I try to avoid pasta before matches now,” Murray said sagely. “If I ate it too close to a match and then drank a lot, I would feel like I was burping a lot during the match, which actually happened a lot at the French Open in the match against Bourges. I didn’t feel that great during that match.
“In terms of what I am eating, not much has changed. It is just when I know I am playing, you tell a nutritionist when you are playing and he sends a plan through for the day and then I just stick to what it is. Often breakfast is the same: I normally have a smoothie with scrambled eggs and a bagel and then, during the day, it changes.
“I just have a more balanced diet than before but I am eating the same things really. I think it can help a little bit but it doesn’t make drastic changes to how you are.”
Djokovic is famed for, amongst other things, his gluten-free diet and his holistic approach to his work. As pure as he can be in mind, body and spirit, he appears to have no weaknesses. Where once he was plagued by allergies and illnesses, he is now fitter and stronger than almost anyone on the tour and with a mind like a steel trap, he knows that he is physically and mentally ready for any situation.
Murray went down the gluten-free route a couple of years back but he did not find that it helped. Yet the older he gets – he is now 29 – the more he learns about how his body will react under pressure and what he needs to do to prepare for those brutal finals against his old foe.
“It is just having [my diet] better planned and getting what I need at the right times of the day,” he said. “Eating at the right time of the day – two hours before a match instead of an hour and a half before a match. Small things like that can help a little bit but it doesn’t change, in my opinion, who you are or how you are as an athlete.”
As the No 2 seed at Wimbledon and with a carefully balanced diet and well-planned meal times, Murray is supposed to be in the final against Djokovic in a fortnight’s time.
When the draw was made yesterday, it was relatively kind to him. Murray will start against Liam Broady, the British No 6. Then it is either a qualifier or the veteran Lu Yen-Hsun of Taipei, folowed by Benoit Paire, who has only reached the third round twice in six attempts. The first big test will come in the shape of Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round and the seedings dictate that the Scot shouldthen play Richard Gasquet, whom he beat in the quarter-finals of the French Open.
After that, Stan Wawrinka may lie in wait in the semis, just as he did in Paris. That would just leave Djokovic in the final. Again.