He is No 2 in the world rankings and the most successful male British player for three-quarters of a century, but there is as much chance of Andy Murray resting on his laurels as there is of him joining Martina Hingis in the next series of Strictly Come Dancing. "I trained hard after Wimbledon, worked on a lot of things in my game," Murray said here as he looked ahead to the start of the US Open tomorrow. "I think I can get a lot better."
Murray took five weeks off between Wimbledon and his reappearance at the Montreal Masters, but rather than head for the beach he went to Miami for a training camp. He has grown accustomed to spending December in Florida, building up his fitness, and although there was more emphasis this time on court work, it was no holiday.
Working in heat and humidity was perfect preparation for the American hard-court season, which Murray proved by winning in Montreal and reaching the semi-finals in Cincinnati in back-to-back Masters Series tournaments. A similar run last year led to his best Grand Slam performance as he reached the final of the US Open before losing to world No 1 Roger Federer.
"There's very little time in the year where you get long breaks where you can actually work on things," Murray said. "You actually need to focus on a couple of small things at a time and work them really hard for a few weeks. Then next time you get a training block you can work on some other things, but it's tough to rush it. You can't work on six or seven different things in a week. It's a bit different to the winter training. I spend about three hours on the court and an hour and a half in the gym each day, whereas it would be the other way around in December."
While most of us might step on the scales with trepidation at the end of a summer break, Murray was delighted to add yet more muscular bulk to his frame.
"I put on a lot of weight in Miami," Murray said. "Now you start to lose a little bit more at the tournaments, just because it's harder to eat at the right times. You could be on court for two and a half hours, then you have the Press to do, you have to warm down and also get yourself ready for the matches. You can't plan your days around eating."
How long does he expect to continue improving? "I think you get to a stage where you stop, but you get better at other things. You learn over time how to conserve energy, how to prepare properly for tournaments, how you should play at certain stages in matches. It's an experience thing. Physically I think you can keep improving until you're 26 or 27, but in terms of your game you can't really learn new things once you get into your late twenties."
If there has been a criticism of Murray in the past it has been that he can be too cautious in his play, giving opponents the chance to attack. He has been working on his serve over the summer in the belief that improvement can help him to play a more aggressive game.
"I'll try and come forward more in this tournament, because I think the conditions allow that," Murray said. "Obviously it depends on the way your opponent is playing, but the serve is the one big thing. I back myself to break serve at least once or twice in a set, so I give myself a lot of chances if I serve well."
In his three Grand Slam tournaments this year, Murray has ultimately run into an opponent who raised his game to new levels: Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round in Melbourne, Fernando Gonzalez in the quarter-finals in Paris and Andy Roddick in the semi-finals at Wimbledon.
"Against both Roddick and Verdasco a couple of points here and there could have changed it," Murray said. "Against Verdasco I had a break point in the fifth set to go up 4-2 and I didn't take it. Against Roddick I had a set point in the third set and at the beginning of the set I was up 40-0 to break and keep the momentum on my side [after winning the second set to level the match]. Sometimes that just happens.
"As for the Gonzalez match I don't think that's one I was really expected to win on clay – or I wasn't at that stage – so I don't think that that was a terrible loss.
"I might have been expected to win the other two, but I think that I've played well in the Grand Slams this year. I could have done a couple of things a bit better, but unfortunately it comes down to a few points sometimes and I came up against guys who played great. There's not a whole lot you can do about that."
The draw here has not been particularly kind to Murray. Ernests Gulbis and Ivo Karlovic might both feel they have a puncher's chance in the early rounds, Juan Martin del Potro would be a major threat in the quarter-finals and Rafael Nadal, provided his knees stand up to the challenge, would love revenge for his semi-final defeat to Murray last year.
While Federer's half of the draw looks easier, a resurgent Roddick could provide a huge test in the semi-finals, although he might have to overcome Novak Djokovic in the last eight.
All in all it looks a fascinatingly open contest – with Murray as good a bet as anyone.
Standing in scotsman's way
First round Ernests Gulbis (Latvia, world No 95)
Reached 2007 fourth round but has fallen from career-high No 38 in world rankings and not won two matches in a row all year
Second round Paul Capdeville (Chile, No 88)
Some success on clay but has never won a singles title or gone beyond second round of a Grand Slam tournament
Third round Ivo Karlovic (Croatia, No 28)
Tallest player in game (6ft 10in) and boasts huge serve but limited in other departments
Fourth round Marin Cilic (Croatia, No 17)
Another giant (6ft 6in) but has not lived up to promise since winning first title at New Haven last year
Quarter-finals Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina, No 6)
Lost to Murray in Montreal final last month. Huge progress in last year, including French Open semi-final appearance
Semi-finals Rafael Nadal (Spain, No 3)
Missed Wimbledon with knee problem. Returned this month but still appears below his best
Final Roger Federer (Switzerland, No 1)
Won record 15th Grand Slam title at Wimbledon and showed continuing motivation with victory last weekend in Cincinnati
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