Close encounters add muscle to Murray's magic touch

Gasquet has twice pushed Scot to limit but World No 4 is in the form of his life
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The Independent Online

It was an image that defined the new Andy Murray, an Andy Murray who had added physical strength and durability to the outstanding talent which had been evident from his earliest days on the international junior circuit. After hitting the match-winning serve against Richard Gasquet here three years ago, with the clock showing 9.30pm and Centre Court in near darkness, Murray rolled up a sleeve to show off his bulging biceps.

The Scot's gesture was a celebration of all his work over the previous eight months. Murray had lost the first two sets to Gasquet, who then served for the match in the third, only for the Scot to launch a remarkable comeback in front of a pumped-up crowd, finally clinching victory after nearly four hours.

As Murray prepares to face the Frenchman again in the fourth round here tomorrow, the memory is one to inspire the world No 4. "It was the first time I had come back to win from two sets to love down at a tournament," Murray said.

"He was playing unbelievably well, so it was good for me. It's a difficult thing to do, coming back from two sets down, especially when you're down a break. It does help your mentality in matches going forward and it's helped me since then."

In the early stages of his career Murray had sometimes wilted at the end of long matches, but he has since worked tirelessly on his fitness at both his winter training camps – at one of which he put on half a stone in muscle – and during the season. The fruits of Murray's labours were again evident when he came back from two sets down to beat Gasquet at last year's French Open. "I'm planning on getting off to a much better start than the last two times," Murray said. "But even if I don't I still have the feeling that I'll be able to come back."

Murray's self-assurance is no doubt bolstered by the fact that Gasquet has a record of freezing on the biggest stages. The 25-year-old Frenchman is a wonderful talent, with a style comparable to Roger Federer's, but he appears a reluctant sporting hero.

The fact that he had never gone beyond the third round of his home Grand Slam tournament until this year, when he finally made the last 16, tells you much about how the former world junior No 1 copes with pressure. Gasquet sometimes looks like he could do with help from his own charitable foundation, which supports adolescents who suffer from a lack of confidence.

Confidence is not a quality lacking in Murray at the moment. Having followed his best clay-court campaign by winning at Queen's Club, the Scot has reached the second week here for the fifth year in succession. If there was room for improvement on his victories over Daniel Gimeno-Traver and Tobias Kamke, the four-set success over Ivan Ljubicic on Friday was a notable step up in class.

Murray, nevertheless, knows that he will need to up his level again to beat Gasquet, who is playing his best tennis for three years. While he believes he has it in him to end Britain's 75-year wait for a Wimbledon champion, Murray also appreciates the need to look no further than his next opponent. "You just can't afford to get ahead of yourself," he said. "I'm playing a guy who I've been two sets down and a break against in two Grand Slam matches. I've got to be ready."

Had Murray given any thought to a possible appearance in the final? "No, because if you do that's when things go wrong. I'm not going to underestimate Gasquet at all. I'm going to come out and be 100 per cent ready physically. I felt so good physically on the court against Ljubicic. I felt I moved really well. Sometimes in the past I've had a few problems in long matches, whether it's physically or my concentration. Now I'm feeling way, way better than I have done in a long time."

The manner in which Murray has recovered from his post-Australian Open slump, when he lost four matches in a row, gives particular cause for optimism. "I've just felt a lot better since the French Open experience and then Queen's. I never want what happened after Australia – how I was feeling, what was happening on the court and my mentality in practice – to happen to me again. You need to try and enjoy yourself and be as relaxed as possible when you're competing for Grand Slams."

Murray admitted that he had made a mistake after Australia by spending the next month away from his regular coaching team. "It was hard to get myself up again," he said. "I spent quite a lot of time on my own on the practice court, which wasn't the right thing at all. I was doubting myself and thinking: 'What do I need to do, what do I need to change, what do I need to work on?' Communication broke down between the guys I was working with. I need to have a close-knit team, with everyone believing."

He added: "When I lost the first time in the US Open final it wasn't really a problem. The last couple of times in Australia it has been. I need to make sure I'm surrounded by the right energy and right people after going through a disappointment like that. They can pick you up and keep you in the right frame of mind. It's easy when you're by yourself to look back and ask what you could have done differently and get down on yourself.

"After Indian Wells and Miami, I sat down and had a think to myself before speaking to the guys quite a lot, and decided there's nothing wrong. I don't need to change my game or become a different player. I just need to get better and mentally become stronger. Since I've done that, the results have got way better."

What the expert says: Greg Rusedski

Andy Murray has made it through to the second week for the fourth successive year, but Richard Gasquet will provide a formidable test tomorrow. Here Gred Rusedski assesses how the pair match up.

Serve Murray's serve was a little bit patchy against Ivan Ljubicic on Friday and he needs to improve it against Gasquet. Murray has games where he makes first serves and then games where he doesn't make any. It's important not to allow Gasquet to get that first hit in like Ljubicic was able to. Their top speed onserve is similar but it's not about speed forme, more about variety. It's important for Murray to use that slider out wide and mix it up with the body serve, becauseyou can't afford tobe predictable.

Return of serve A key element for me is how well Andy returns. Historically he goes cross-court all the time, which will be into the forehand of Gasquet and I'm looking for him to change the direction a little bit with the forehand up the line. If you look at NOvak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal, whenever they play Murray they know it's coming cross-court all day so they always stand in that position.

Groundstrokes The backhand is by far Gasquet's best shot, a beautiful single-hander, but I still prefer Murray's two-handed backhand. On the forehand side I think he's more solid too because Gasquet's is a little bit weaker and I'd take Murray with the drop-shot too. As for that 'hot dog' shot through the legs, you can get away with it against certain opponents but it can get under the skin of opponents and you wouldn't want to give some of these guys any further motivation.

Temperament I like Murray's attitude on court these days. I think Darren Cahill and Sven Groeneveld have done a good job with him. You can see the difference in press conferences, on court, there's a different sort of Murray. Gasquet likes it here, having made his only Grand Slam semi-final here when he beat Roddick. Of course he's twice lost to Murray after being two sets up, which makes it mentally a big ask. That's where his coach, Ricardo Piatti, can help, having been coach to Ljubicic. He's been working hard with him on the mental side. Historically if a match gets tight, Gasquet has the tendency to get nervous and choke a little bit. Andy will use that home crowd to its fullest. He's looking confident, he's won Queen's and everything is positive. If you come into the Championships and you're not playing well then the crowd can feel like a pressure but he's in a good state of mind and is using that crowd well.

Verdict What is Gasquet really going to hurt Murray with? I think Murray's variety will be a little bit too much for him. He's going to use the drop shot, use the angles off the court. I see Murray winning in three or four sets – if Gasquet plays well he gets one set. I can't see there's anyway that Murray is going to lose.

And after that...

I can only see the top four guys in the semis, Nadal against Murray and Federer-Djokovic. Then the semi would be a big ask for Murray, who would have to play the match of his life and then do so again in the final. He's going to have to beat two of the greatest guys who ever played the game. It's going to be very difficult for him to beat Rafa because the courts are slow, the balls are slow and he will have to serve exceptionally well. I don't see him winning Wimbledon just yet. I think next year he'll have a better shot. I hope I'm wrong, but my head says Nadal. I've never seen anything like him in all my years of watching tennis. Mentally he's fantastic, he just never has a lapse of concentration. With this crowd behind Andy I'd say anything's possible but if I rated the top four I'd have to say Nadal is favourite, Federer is number two, Murray number three and Djokovic four.

Greg Rusedski is working at Wimbledon for BBC television