Fairy tale of New York supplies latest chapter in Murray's rise

John Clark, an architect in his fifties and a much respected member of Dunblane Sports Club, remembers his eight-year-old doubles partner approaching him during a match in the Central District Tennis League. "You're standing a bit close to the net," the debutant told him. "You should stand back a bit as you might get lobbed if I decide to serve and volley."

John Clark, an architect in his fifties and a much respected member of Dunblane Sports Club, remembers his eight-year-old doubles partner approaching him during a match in the Central District Tennis League. "You're standing a bit close to the net," the debutant told him. "You should stand back a bit as you might get lobbed if I decide to serve and volley."

Andy Murray has never been short on confidence and 13 years later he was playing here last night in the biggest match of his life in front of a worldwide TV audience of millions. Nothing in his remarkable rise from a quiet tennis club in Scotland's smallest city indicated that he would be fazed by the prospect of meeting Roger Federer, arguably the greatest player ever to pick up a tennis racket, in the final of the US Open.

For the last 12 years Murray's home city has been synonymous with the name of 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton, who on a March morning in 1996 strode into the gymnasium at Dunblane Primary School armed with two semi-automatic pistols and two revolvers. Sixteen children and their teacher were killed.

Murray and his elder brother, Jamie, were pupils at the school. Andy, who was eight at the time and remembers being hurriedly herded with other children into another classroom on the day of the massacre, has never been comfortable talking about it in public. To this day, nevertheless, he still regards his home city as the safest place in the world. When he went back last Christmas he told his mother he could imagine nobody in Dunblane bothering to lock their doors at night.

It certainly provided an environment in which a young boy mad on sport could flourish. Andy coped well with his parents' separation – Judy and Willie, who parted when he was 10, were both here last night for the biggest night of their younger son's life – and enjoyed a happy childhood. He had talent as a footballer, but it was as a tennis player that he truly shone.

He made his big breakthrough at 17. Winning the 2004 US Open junior title not only confirmed his great talent but also started his love affair with all things American. In 2006 Murray won his first senior title, in San Jose, reached the fourth round at Wimbledon and was in the world's top 20 by August. Ten months later he was in the top 10 and this year his progress has gathered pace. After reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, his previous best Grand Slam performance, he won his first Masters Series title and has taken his game to a new level here. He will be the world No 4 when the updated rankings list is published today.

While Murray is always quick to give credit to his back-up team, who have helped with his fitness in particular, his own single-minded purpose has been the key to his success. He is always prepared to make hard and sometimes ruthless decisions.

Mark Petchey, a former British player, was one of his early coaches and got on well with Murray personally, but when the Scot felt he needed to move on to another level he sacked him. Brad Gilbert, Andre Agassi's former coach, was recruited with the help of the Lawn Tennis Association's cash and oversaw further progress, but by the end of last year Murray was again ready to move on. He parted with Gilbert and decided instead to surround himself with a team of specialist coaches and fitness trainers. He now travels with one of the largest entourages on the circuit.

Being happy off the court is crucial to Murray. Not always confident in the company of strangers, he surrounds himself both on tour and while at home practising with friends and those he knows and trusts.

If Murray has yet to achieve the popularity Tim Henman enjoyed, much of it is down to his demeanour on court. While Henman retained a stiff upper lip in adversity, Murray has never been reluctant to show his emotions. He can scowl and curse when things are going wrong, conducting a running commentary. This year he has learnt to channel his energies more effectively, though he still occasionally needs a confrontation – either with himself or an opponent – to raise his game.

Roberto Forzoni, an Italian sports psychologist, has helped the player but Murray says that the biggest factor in his improved mental approach has been his physical fitness. He now goes on court knowing that he has the strength to outlast his opponents. Tracy Austin, the former player and now a leading commentator, believes that the Scot can join Nadal, Federer and Djokovic at the very top. "We haven't even scratched the surface with Andy yet," she said.

Brain, brawn and backhand The British No 1's three greatest strengths

BACKHAND

Most players find the forehand a more natural stroke to play and can generate more power with the shot than with their backhand. Murray’s greater strength is his backhand. He hits it doublehandedbut can switch to a single hand when stretched. He uses slice very effectively, mostly in defence but also on some approaches, where his low, skidding shots can be difficult to attack. The killer backhand, however, is his attacking two-hander, driven down the line or cross-court. Striking the ball with great racket-head speed, Murray hits the ball with enormous power. Because he hits it so flat, opponents find it hard to cope with the sheer pace of the ball

FITNESS

In his early matches on the senior tour Murray suffered from cramp and muscle problems. With his body still growing, he wisely resisted the temptation to do too much work in the gym to improve his strength. In the last two winters, however, he has concentrated on physical work and has emerged much stronger. Now it is Murray who outlasts opponents, as he did by coming from two sets down against both Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon and against Jürgen Melzer in New York. Murray says that knowing he has the fitness to last long matches means that he can go on court focusing only on his tennis.

TACTICAL BRAIN

Coaches can show you how to play backhands and forehands, but it is much harder to teach a player how to construct rallies and when to play certain shots. Murray has always had a natural ability to outsmart opponents and nobody in the modern men's game can match his talent for mixing up his shots. In particular, opponents find it hard to cope when he slows a rally down and then surprises with a sudden acceleration of pace. Even Rafael Nadal looked flummoxed as Murray played serve-and-volley on second serves, approached the net behind sliced backhands and followed half-court balls with backhands hammered into the corners.

Team Murray From coaches to girlfriends, the back-up brigade behind Andy’s climb to the top

*MILES MACLAGAN

Former British Davis Cup player who became Murray's main coach after the split with Brad Gilbert at the end of last year. Reached No 172 in the world rankings as a singles player before moving on to coaching. Quietly-spoken and level-headed, he is a complete contrast to Gilbert, whose in-your-face approach ultimately persuaded Murray to dispense with his services.

*LOUIS CAYER

Joined the team last year. The French-Canadian coach was initially approached by Judy Murray to help Jamie, Andy's brother. Nicknamed "The Professor" because of his scientific approach, he was Canada's Davis Cup coach for 12 years and helped Sebastien Lareau and Daniel Nestor win doubles gold at the 2000 Olympics.

*MATT LITTLE

Strength and conditioning coach who became a regular member of Team Murray last year. He frequently joins Murray on tour and helps with fitness training, injury prevention and pre-exercise preparations.

*JEZ GREEN

Physical conditioner who draws up Murray's fitness programme and works in association with Little. Worked with Maclagan in the latter's playing days and now tours regularly with Murray. Introduced Murray to Bikram yoga, of which the Scot has become a devotee.

*ANDY IRELAND

Physiotherapist, working as part of a team with Green and Little. All three have been in New York. Also works at the LTA's National Tennis Centre in Roehampton with other British players and has his own clinic in Surrey.

*DANIEL VALLVERDU and CARLOS MIER

Both friends from Murray's Barcelona days and have regularly joined him at tournaments around the world as hitting partners and off-court buddies. Vallverdu (left), a Venezuelan, now combines tennis with university studies in Miami and played doubles with Murray at Queen's Club this summer.

*PATRICIO APEY

Octagon, one of the big management firms, were Murray's first agents, but the Scot signed up with Apey's smaller ACE Group when he changed agents two years ago. The former Chilean Davis Cup player's company also represents, among others, footballers Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo.

*STUART HIGGINS

The former editor of The Sun was taken on as a media consultant earlier this year with a view to improving Murray's public image. Was the fact that Murray shaved during Wimbledon, had his hair cut and dispensed with his cap a coincidence? Was in New York at the start of the US Open and flew back out for the finale.

*KIM SEARS

Murray's girlfriend is studying for an English degree and can join him on tour only occasionally, though she regularly ferries him to and from practice sessions at Roehampton. Daughter of the leading tennis coach Nigel Sears, she met Murray at the 2005 US Open.

*JUDY MURRAY

A former Scottish champion and national coach, Murray's mother remains a key figure in his tennis career. Has played an important part in trying to help improve his image and is believed to have been the major factor in the recruitment of Higgins.

*CELEBRITIES

A-list cheerleaders at the US Open have included the actor Will Ferrell (right) and the Virgin boss Richard Branson.

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