It could be another working day on the tennis court when Andy Murray clocks up his 21st birthday at the German Open in Hamburg next week, though it is the location rather than the celebration which will probably be uppermost in the Scot's mind. For it was at this same Masters Series event at the Rothenbaum Club, and on his 20th birthday too, that Murray damaged wrist tendons so badly that he was sidelined for almost three months.
Now, armed with a support team hired in a bid to ensure such misfortune is not repeated, Murray is in pursuit of a return to the game's top 10, where he spent nine weeks last year, ironically most of them while he was nursing that wrist injury.
So determined is he to climb back among the elite of men's tennis that if he doesn't make it, he says, he will pack it in. "I don't really want to play tennis if I am not going to try and be around the top guys in the world," he said. "If I don't feel I can do it, then I will stop. I don't think there is much fun in me playing the game otherwise.
"Last year I surely would have finished in the top 10 [he was 11th] but for injuries. I was just one match away from qualifying for the [year-end] Masters Cup, even though I missed three and a half months of the season because of my back and wrist. So, yeah, I definitely feel I can get up to the top 10 again.
"I have beaten Roger Federer this year, I have had some good matches with Rafael Nadal. Bar Novak Djokovic [who he has yet to defeat] I have a good record against top players like Andy Roddick and Nikolay Davydenko." The comments were delivered at Barcelona's Real Club de Tenis, where Murray had taken a wild card into the Conde de Godo tournament, in the immediate aftermath of a straight-sets loss to Mario Ancic in his first match of the Open Sabadell Atlantico in the city.
Murray had always intended to spend the week in Barcelona, where he lived and trained for two years as a junior, practising under the eye of Alex Corretja, who has been taken aboard in the short term for his clay-court expertise. So, Murray claimed, the defeat by Ancic was no big deal. Saying that he "didn't really get that fired up", he added, "I wanted to go out there and try to work on a few things" in readiness for this week's Masters Series tournament in Rome.
It was a match that he should have won, though Ancic, on his own road to recovery after a lengthy absence for most of the 2007 season due to a virus, sensibly regarded it as a payday and an opportunity to garner ranking points, and was permitted to prevail mainly courtesy of Murray errors, not least the failed drop shot at set point down.
Corretja, twice a runner-up at the French Open, began his brief stint with Team Murray two weeks ago at Monte Carlo, where Murray had wins over Feliciano Lopez and Filippo Volandri before losing to Djokovic. He is attempting to instil a clay-court attitude that nothing comes for free on such a slow surface.
Though it was not overly noticeable against Ancic, Corretja says Murray is a fast learner, and he himself acknowledges: "I am going to have to work on a lot more things before I can say I am a very good clay-court player. I am not anywhere near there yet. I am getting better but there are still a lot of improvements I have to make."
However, he feels that the intense work he intends to put in with Corretja, particularly during the "free" week before the French Open, the culmination of the European clay season, will be of huge benefit. But Murray dismissed any thought that he might wish to sign a specialist grass-court coach for Wimbledon or a hard-court expert before the US Open. "I just wanted to work with someone through the clay-court stretch because I hadn't had a chance to play any matches on clay for a long time," he said. "I don't plan on hiring anyone else for the grass."
Having talked about "keeping it fresh and fun" as a reason for employing a team in the wake of his dismissal of Brad Gilbert, Murray is sensitive about the size of that team. "I think it has kind of been blown out of proportion, the amount of people I have around me. I just want to have a coach, a physio and a fitness trainer at each of the tournaments to make sure that, unlike last year when I had a bad injury, I can prevent that.
"That's why I have got a physio with me. I hear all the time that I am not in good shape and need to improve my stamina, so I have hired a fitness trainer. But, suddenly, I have got too many people around me. So it's one of those things. I made a decision to try and improve all the things I am not doing well and suddenly there seem to be way too many people at the tournament.
"Over the last couple of years I have had a lot of people questioning my fitness," he continues. "Now I feel much stronger because I hired a fitness trainer. I hired a physio to prevent some of the injuries I had in the last couple of years and I have not had any real niggles this year that have kept me out for any period of time. So I feel the things off court I wanted to improve on, I have done."
Now, says Murray, he just wants to anticipate playing again at the Grand Slams he missed last year, Roland Garros and Wimbledon.Reuse content