Ferrer's punishing tempo threatens to lock out Murray

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The Independent Online

Andy Murray thinks he needs to work harder and become physically stronger to realise his full potential. As he continues to look for a new coach following his parting of the ways with Miles Maclagan, the 23-year-old Scot should perhaps consider approaching Javier Piles, who has worked for more than 10 years with David Ferrer, Murray's opponent here in London tonight at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

At 5ft 9in and less than 12 stone, 28-year-old Ferrer relies on his speed and phenomenal fitness. Piles, however, says his fellow Spaniard has never been the most dedicated of trainers, which explains one of the more unusual methods the coach used when the current world No 7 was not showing enough dedication in his teenage years.

"When he didn't want to work I would lock him up in a dark room of two by two metres," Piles told www.atpworldtour.com, the Association of Tennis Professionals' website.

"It was the room where we would store the tennis balls. I would tell him that his working schedule was from nine to 12 and that if he didn't want to work he would remain there punished. I would give him a piece of bread and a bottle of water through the bars of a small window. After a few minutes we would hear David asking other trainers from the club for some help to get out, but we wouldn't pay any attention."

The shock treatment did not work, but giving up tennis at 17 and working on a building site did. After his first week, an exhausted Ferrer had earned just 30 euros from loading bricks into a wheelbarrow. At the end of it he told Piles he would report for training at 9am sharp the next day.

He has never looked back. Ferrer may be one of the game's less charismatic players, but he has won nine titles, earned $9.13m (about £5.8m) in prize money and built a reputation as a never-say-die competitor, especially on his favoured surface of clay. He reached the final of these championships three years ago.

Ferrer has lost both his matches so far this week, but still has a chance of qualifying for Saturday's semi-finals, which will be contested by the top two players from each round-robin group of four. The situation is similar to 12 months ago, when confusion reigned after the final round-robin matches in Murray's group, with players and public kept waiting for 20 minutes before being told who had qualified. In a bizarre end to the evening, Juan Martin del Potro had a hit on-court with his fellow Argentine, the footballer Carlos Tevez, before it was announced that Murray was the player who had lost out.

Organisers insist there will be no similar delays in the event of another tight finish after today's concluding matches in Group B, although that could be a disappointment for anyone hoping to see Diego Maradona – a regular in the crowd here this week – chasing Murray drop shots. Nevertheless, as the four players prepare for the finale, the greatest threat to their wellbeing is probably not so much a pulled hamstring or sore shoulder as a headache from calculating what they have to do to qualify.

The final matches see Roger Federer take on Robin Soderling this afternoon before Murray meets Ferrer in the evening. Any two of the four could make the semi-finals. If two or more players are tied on matches won, the placings are decided by their head-to-head records this week, then by sets won and finally by their percentage of games won.

There are 10 possible scenarios, including Murray winning and being eliminated, or losing to the Spaniard yet qualifying. At least he will know what he has to do by the time he goes on court. For example, if Federer wins this afternoon, Murray has only to win a set against Ferrer.

In Group A, Andy Roddick needed Rafael Nadal to beat Novak Djokovic last night to give him any chance of qualifying. Roddick lost his second match in a row when he was beaten 7-5, 6-3 by Tomas Berdych in the afternoon session.