Murray ready for another Aussie run
It is accepted that an above-average ability to survive intense physical and mental pressure is required to rise to the top on the men's tennis tour, as anyone who witnessed Andy Murray's marathon victory over Novak Djokovic in the final of the US Open last September will realize.
These two extraordinary athletes are expected to find themselves on a collision course once again for the Australian Open title over the next two weeks in a championship that Djokovic has won twice and at which Murray has seen his ambitions thwarted in the final on two occasions and the semifinals once over the last three years.
Now, boosted with that win in New York following his triumph at Wimbledon where he won Olympic gold in the singles, Murray is primed and ready to continue this run of success despite Djokovic remaining many pundits' pick for the title.
The fact that Murray thrives on competition of all kinds has been known for some time, but the media were given an amusing insight as to just what goes on in the Scot's training camp – carried out with near-demented fervor in Miami each December – when his fitness trainer, Jez Green, appeared at the end of Andy's press conference to read out a statement written by coach Ivan Lendl, penitence for having lost a challenge.
"I stand before you today not just to inform you that I lost the challenge with Ivan on the VersaClimber but also to acknowledge Ivan is a far superior physical specimen than myself, all this despite a near 13-year age gap. I apologize for my performance."
The only surprise was that Lendl was not in attendance to rub salt into the wound and throw rotten tomatoes. Murray's tight-knit group have always indulged in various competitive japes with the losers having to suffer various forms of humiliation and Lendl's appearance on the scene fitted that culture like a glove.
For the Czech-born former US Open champion, life is not worth living if you cannot push yourself to your limits. I remember him telling me during his playing days, "I look at myself in the mirror in the morning and say, "Body! How can I punish you today?"
The answer came in the form of five hours on the practice court; 20 miles on a bike and a wrestling match with his five German Shepherds to round off the day.
During the year they have spent together, it has become clear that Murray's humor and physical endurance have stood the tests that Lendl's work ethic and endless stream of jokes have demanded of him and the results speak for themselves.
It falls to Green, an Englishman based in Delray Beach, Fla., to carry out the actual physical tests that Murray is subjected to during his training blocks in Miami and it says everything about Andy's character that he comes through with flying colors.
"It doesn't matter what task I set him, Andy is always up for it," Green told me. "He will happily push himself to the limit."
Murray has begun the year with the retention of his ATP title in Brisbane and will now face the talented Dutchman Robin Haase in the first round. Haase, who pushed Murray hard when they met at the US Open a few years ago, has recently taken on the excellent Spanish coach Marcos-Aurelio Gorriz and will not give the Scot an easy ride.
Murray has Roger Federer in his half of the draw while Djokovic, who opens against the veteran Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu, has both No. 4 seed David Ferrer and the No. 5, Tomas Berdych, as probable opponents en route to the final.
Djokovic did not duck the fact that he was one of the players targeted when the ATP decided to enforce the 25-second rule between points. "It is the way it is," he said. "I don't complain. I cannot have any complaints when I take more than 20 seconds (the Grand Slam time rule) between points. If the chair umpire warns me and I do it again, that's it. It's within the rules and I will respect it."
John Isner's withdrawal through injury has left the US with only five direct entries into the men's draw and Djokovic could hold the fate of three of them in his hands. Ryan Harrison should find himself facing the world No. 1 in the second round if he beats Colombia's Santiago Girlado while Sam Querrey, the top-seeded American at No 20, could play Djokovic in the fourth round.
Alternatively that would be the fate of Brian Baker should the man from Nashville beat Querrey in the second round.
There was more disappointment for Donald Young when he was beaten in the final round of qualifying 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 by Jamie Baker, a lowly ranked Scot who clearly benefited from spending two weeks with Murray at that boot camp in Miami. It's that Lendl factor again.