Murray relaxed about push to reach new goal

In his team's heyday Bill Shankly sometimes stood at the end of the Anfield tunnel as the players went out on to the pitch. When the opposition ran out the Liverpool manager would shout to them: "You can run, but you cannae hide!"

Miles Maclagan, Andy Murray's coach, is far too much of a gentleman to contemplate any such behaviour when Richard Gasquet walks on to Centre Court to face the British No 1 this afternoon, but he also knows that the Wimbledon public can do his work for him. While Murray loves the hullabaloo surrounding big matches and relishes the support of his home crowd, 22-year-old Gasquet is a more fragile soul who has often left his own supporters wondering whether he can handle the pressures of competition at the highest level.

Under the weight of French expectations the country's No 1 player has never gone beyond the third round of his home Grand Slam event and in recent months has looked increasingly uncomfortable in the public eye. Playing outside France may be a help, but it remains to be seen how he would cope with a Centre Court crowd willing on his opponent, even if he has an excellent record on grass and reached the semi-finals here last year before losing to Roger Federer.

Murray, in contrast, has never gone beyond the last 16 of a Grand Slam tournament, but he has rarely looked more relaxed on court than he did during his three victories over Fabrice Santoro, Xavier Malisse and Tommy Haas. Even when the world No 11's level of performance dipped for the first time during his 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Haas on Saturday he went about restoring his advantage with composed self-assurance.

Murray said that having the home crowd behind him made "a huge difference". He added: "When you're playing away from home you can still notice the atmosphere, but the crowd aren't always for you. Here they give you that extra lift.

"In the third set the crowd got right behind me, his head went down a bit and he got a warning. I thought he started to lose his head a little bit in that third set. If the crowd's with you that doesn't happen as much. I think I've stayed pretty calm through all of my matches so far."

The Scot puts that down partly to making a determined effort to get away from tennis when he can. Having his own London flat to return to every night helps. Murray said he was watching less tennis on television than he used to and spending more time with his friends, playing pool and walking his new dog.

"This year it's definitely been a bit different and I've dealt with everything much better and felt more relaxed on the court," Murray said. "If you want to go deep into the tournament you've got to have a bit of time away from the court as well.

"In previous years I went on the court a little bit stressed. Obviously once I got out there I played well and won matches, but I got a bit tired after a few matches and I guess I was a bit stressed on the court.

"On my days off I was spending too much time watching matches, maybe studying the other players a little bit too much. I didn't know them that well, but now I know much more about how they play so I don't have to do that as much."

Murray is well aware that on two of the three occasions he has gone this far in a Grand Slam tournament he has not done himself justice. In New York two years ago he never got going again after rain interrupted his match against Nikolay Davydenko, while he was poor from the start of his meeting here two months earlier with Marcos Baghdatis, whose coach, Guillaume Peyre, now works with Gasquet.

"I just wasn't used to anything," Murray said. "That was the first time I'd made the fourth round of a Slam and I'm not used to playing tournaments that last more than a week. I didn't deal with it very well and I didn't play great in the match.

"I felt I'd really achieved something once I'd got there. I was almost happy with what I'd done in the tournament before I went on the court. I still wanted to win, but I was just a little bit flat out there.

"But two years is a long time ago for a sports person and I'm sure I'll perform much better against Gasquet than I did a couple of years ago. Now I feel I'm better prepared to go deep into a Slam. That's really the main difference. I've put in the work off the court to believe that I can win a Slam."

Although Gasquet is only one year older than Murray, they never met as juniors. On the senior circuit Gasquet has won both their matches, in straight sets in Toronto in the summer of 2006 and in three sets at the Paris Masters at the end of last year. The latter match was a shoot-out for the final place in the eight-man field for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup and came at the end of a demanding autumn schedule for Murray. It also coincided with the final breakdown in his relationship with Brad Gilbert, his then coach.

Gasquet is one of the great stylists of men's tennis, with a beautiful one-handed backhand, a forehand driven with heavy top spin, clean volleys and a classic serve. The world No 10's game is not dissimilar to Federer's and when the great man was asked which player among the younger generation he most enjoyed watching he named the Frenchman.

"He's a very talented player," Murray said. "He can hit most of the shots. He serves and volleys a little bit and he moves well on grass, which not too many of the guys do particularly well. A lot of guys can play better on grass because it's slower these days, but it's definitely completely different to moving on a clay court or a hard court.

"It's going to be a difficult match, no question, the toughest match of the ones I've played so far. But I just feel I've got a good chance of winning. I feel I'm going on the court well prepared. Physically and mentally I'm much stronger."

Must do better: Murray's previous fourth-round Grand Slam failures

*Wimbledon 2006: Lost 3-6, 4-6, 6-7 to Marcos Baghdatis

Having beaten Andy Roddick, the No 3 seed, in thrilling fashion on the Saturday night, Murray was never in contention against Baghdatis two days later. There was no spark to his play as Baghdatis chased down drop shots and attacked the Scot's second serve mercilessly. After getting to within two points of winning the third set, Murray made two double faults in a poor tie-break.

*US Open 2006: Lost 1-6, 7-5, 3-6, 0-6 to Nikolay Davydenko

After coming from two sets to one down to beat Fernando Gonzalez in the previous round, Murray tried to do the same against Davydenko after rain stopped play at the end of the third set. But when they returned the next morning, Davydenko hit top form immediately while Murray struggled. The contest was over in just 36 minutes as Davydenko won six games in a row.

*Australian Open 2007: Lost 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 3-6, 1-6 to Rafael Nadal

Although it ended in defeat this was one of Murray's best ever matches. Regularly playing serve-and-volley and attacking the net when he could, he was the more aggressive player throughout. At the start of the fourth set Murray had two points for a 3-1 lead, but the Spaniard finally took command to win in just under four hours.

Comments