Gilbert plays the weighting game with Murray

The British No1 piles on the muscle as coach's new fitness regime begins to pay off. By Paul Newman
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The Independent Online

Ever since Brad Gilbert asked Andy Murray to take off his shirt in their first meeting last year, the coach has seen improving the 19-year-old Scot's physical strength as a top priority. After a month's hard work during the close season, Gilbert believes he may have to adjust his target for seeing Murray walk on court, muscles rippling, in a Rafael Nadal-style sleeveless shirt.

"We were hoping that he could bust sleeveless at Wimbledon '08, but now, if he works hard enough, it could be Wimbledon '07," Gilbert said. "That's the litmus test, busting sleeveless. Then you've got some guns."

It was eight o'clock in the morning as Gilbert held court here yesterday, though the famously early riser was already well into his day. "After flying here from Doha I'm still waking up at 3.30," he said. "I get up and go to get a coffee from the Seven 11. When I go in, the guy's usually sleeping behind the counter."

Murray is less comfortable with early-morning starts, but the dedication to his work in preparation for the start of the Australian Open here on Monday is evident.

John Lloyd, the British Davis Cup captain, is among those who have been struck by the improvement in Murray's physique after the world No 15 spent 10 days in America with Mark Grabow, his new fitness trainer, and subsequently adjusted his ongoing training programme. "You can see Andy's put on muscle," Lloyd said yesterday. "He's looking great."

Gilbert believes the on-court benefits of Murray's new regime will become increasingly apparent over the next 12 to 18 months. "It's not like American football, where you can put 15 pounds on in two months," he said. "On a tennis player, when you're a little leaner, if you put too much weight on you can break your body down. It's about putting it on slowly."

Andy is not the only Murray Gilbert has been working with in recent weeks. Jamie, his 20-year-old brother, partnered the British No1 to the semi-finals of the doubles in Doha last week. While Andy will not play doubles at the Grand Slam events, Gilbert expects the brothers to play together in up to 15 other tournaments this year. Jamie is specialising in doubles and at No. 66 in the world is now the highest-ranked British player. That has earned him a place in the doubles here, where he will partner Germany's Benjamin Becker. "I've done a bit of work with Jamie," Gilbert said. "He's a great kid, though he's a totally different character to his brother. I think he's got the chance to be in the top 30 in the world for doubles. Jamie and Andy have also got a shot to be playing Davis Cup together.

"Having his brother around has been the most refreshing thing for Andy over the last few months. He's really excited about it. I think as kids they dreamed of one day being out there, and those dreams are starting to become a reality. They have fun together and, if Jamie can move up, they'll be in a lot of the same tournaments. Andy said that for three or four years they didn't see each other much, because Andy was in Spain and Jamie was playing other tournaments. They had time apart so they appreciate each other more now."

Gilbert's role with the Lawn Tennis Association also includes working with other British players. He has been particularly impressed by Alex Bogdanovic, although the British No 3 yesterday lost in the first round of the qualifying competition (in which he was the No 10 seed) to George Bastl. Jamie Baker and Richard Bloomfield went out, but Alan Mackin and Jonathan Marray are through. In the women's event, Anne Keothavong and Katie O'Brien won but Melanie South lost.

"From what I've seen of him, Alex should be doing a lot better," Gilbert said. "His game is much better than his [world No123] ranking. If he really puts things together, I see no reason why he shouldn't be in the top 40 in the world."

Gilbert would like to see more British players coming through and is anxious that his main charge does not carry too much weight on his shoulders. "He's not here to save GB, he's here to save Andy Murray," Gilbert said. "The pressure gets to you when you think that you've got to win the Davis Cup, or win this and do this for other people and not yourself. You've got to win for yourself."