Murray looks to fine-tune for Slams
HE HAS ruled the men's game for the last month, but Andy Murray is still seeking ways to make the improvements he needs in order to achieve his ultimate goal of winning a first Grand Slam title. Although the Scot's coaching team have just helped him to win three tournaments in succession, culminating in the successful defence of his Shanghai Rolex Masters title here on Sunday night, Murray appreciates that he still needs to find the edge that will help him to claim the biggest prizes in the game.
While Dani Vallverdu, Murray's friend from their days together at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, has become the focal point of his coaching set-up following the departure of Alex Corretja, the Scot would like to be able to turn to a more experienced figure when it comes to the biggest occasions. Darren Cahill, who used to coach Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt, has been helping Murray this year as a fellow member of the Adidas stable, but the Australian is not available to help during Grand Slam tournaments owing to his broadcasting commitments.
Despite the lack of experience in his corner, Murray has still come desperately close to realising his dreams. He lost in the Australian Open final to Novak Djokovic, the outstanding player of 2011, and to Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the three other Grand Slam tournaments. Nadal was world No 1 when they met at the French Open and Wimbledon and world No 2 by the time of the US Open, having been overtaken by Djokovic.
Murray, who took over from Roger Federer as world No 3 in yesterday's updated rankings list, said: "The year's been good, but there's always stuff you look to add or try and improve. I'm happy with all of the guys around me. The only thing I would look to add is maybe a wee bit more experience at the bigger tournaments.
"But it's worked well this year. It's not like it's been a disaster at the majors - I've played well. And I think that [when I've lost] some of the matches at the majors it hasn't been down to any of the guys, or not [having] enough information on my opponents. It's been down to me maybe not playing my best. I just need to make sure that I keep getting fitter, stronger. If I do add something, it will definitely be someone who can give me a little bit extra experience."
Murray would like to link up with a wise head - either a coach or a former player - who knows what it takes to cross the winning line at a Grand Slam tournament, but experienced coaches in particular are in short supply. Murray would no doubt love to work with someone like Agassi, who was his boyhood idol, but many of the former top players are reluctant to jump back on to the touring treadmill.
In the short term, the Scot may link up with Cahill in London at next month's Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. He is also hoping the Australian will be able to come to his winter training camp in December. "It wouldn't necessarily have to be for the whole time because a lot of the time in Miami I'm just doing physical work and I'm not doing that much time on the court," Murray said.
Vallverdu will remain central to Murray's plans. "We've both got the same goals, the same mindset," Murray said. "All of the guys [in my entourage] do - and we just want to keep improving. He works hard and always has good information on the opponents. It's down to me to play well on the court."
Murray is particularly pleased with how well he is feeling physically at this stage of the season. He has changed his diet this year - he avoids all food containing wheat and cow's milk - and feels much better for it. Despite the exertions of the last three weeks, during which he won 13 matches in 18 days, Murray said his only problems were a few blisters and sore feet.
"My body feels 50 per cent better than it did this time last year in terms of pain, stiffness, little niggles," he said. "Last year I remember finishing here. You always feel good when you win a tournament, but when you get back on the practice court, things are sore. Also when I finished at the O2 the last two years, I've been so, so sore. I did play a really long match with Rafa last year and that didn't help. But I feel completely different [this year]."
Murray is clear about what he has to do next in his career: "I just have to play better. I can win against Rafa. I can win against Novak. I just have to play better against them in five-setters."
The Scot may like to look at Djokovic's example. The world No 1 has said that the confidence he gained from his fine form at the end of last season, when he led Serbia to victory in the Davis Cup, was a crucial factor in his extraordinary success this year. Murray said: "No one would have expected what Novak's done this year and that's where you just have to remember that you can have tough losses - and he had quite a lot of them last year - but sometimes great things are right round the corner, provided you have the right mindset and the right attitude and you work hard. That's all I've got to keep doing."