Murray set to eat rivals for breakfast

Astonishing food intake helps Briton pile on the pounds – and he's happy to shoulder weight of being favourite
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Thank goodness he was not addressing a WeightWatchers' meeting. "The hardest part was the breakfast," Andy Murray said as he recalled his dietary regime during his training camp in Miami last month. "You would get up and have a protein shake and bagels with peanut butter. The peanut butter was chewy and would stick to your teeth. Then I'd have eggs after that and yoghurt and fruit and whatever. It was really tough to keep doing that each day."

Lunches of sushi – his personal best was 24 pieces – and steakhouse dinners pushed Murray's intake towards 6,000 calories a day, which is 3,500 more than the average man needs. By the end of his three-week camp he had put on 12lb and was tipping the scales at 13st 10lb.

Such an outcome after three weeks in the Florida sun might have driven a figure-conscious holidaymaker to despair, but for Murray, December was about getting down to business. A similar programme of intense physical work and bulk-building laid the foundations for his spectacular year in 2008, and the early signs in 2009 are that Miami can again be his launchpad. The knowledge that Murray is capable of outlasting opponents clearly does wonders for his confidence.

Murray may be No 4 in the world and without a Grand Slam title to his name, but the 21-year-old Scot goes into the Australian Open this week as the bookmakers' favourite. He plays his opening match against Romania's Andrei Pavel on Tuesday.

Having earned more ranking points than any other player in the second half of last year, Murray has maintained his form in the new campaign. After warming up with wins over Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in a three-day exhibition in Abu Dhabi, the British No 1 won his only competitive tournament in the run-up to the year's first Grand Slam event, beating Federer again on his way to victory in the Qatar Open in Doha.

While Federer has raised his eyebrows at Murray's place in the betting, the Scot himself is happy about his status. "Becoming a contender for a Slam gives me that little bit of extra confidence," he said here yesterday. "I don't have a problem whether I'm favourite or not. I guess Roger would prefer to be the favourite himself. That's absolutely fine. But it doesn't change my mindset going into the tournament at all.

"I've been pretty chilled out here. I haven't felt any real extra pressure. I've been away from everything and practised well and there aren't a whole lot of photographers and camera crews allowed into my sessions, so it's all been good."

There are question marks over all of Murray's main rivals. Nadal, having missed the end of last season with a knee injury, has looked below his best so far this year. Federer, who beat Stanislas Wawrinka yesterday in the final of an exhibition tournament at Kooyong, has lost three times in a row to Murray (not counting his loss in Abu Dhabi) since beating him in the US Open final four months ago. Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, has already lost twice this year, to Ernests Gulbis and Jarkko Nieminen.

Although hard courts are Murray's favourite surface, he has gone out in the first round in two of his three appearances at the Australian Open, losing to Juan Ignacio Chela in 2006 and to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the eventual beaten finalist, last year.

"I think that when I lost in the first round when I was 18, that was kind of expected," Murray recalled. "It wasn't like I was going to win the tournament. I was not in great shape physically. Last year I played against a good player. I was expected to do well and I lost to a guy who ended up having a great year.

"At the time people said it was a terrible loss, but it really wasn't. I had chances to win even though I didn't play well. I think it helps that I lost in the first round last year because hopefully the same thing won't happen again. I'm not going to look too far ahead. People are talking about my chances, but I'm not going to think about the second week until I've won my matches."

What does Murray see as the main attributes needed to win the Australian Open? "I think you need to come in having had a good off-season and be physically prepared," he said. "Ifyou take a bit too much time off and maybe don't train in a warm climate in December, it's tough to play the five-set matches very well."

That was a consoling thought during his gut-wrenching track work last month as part of a programme devised by Jez Green, a member of his fitness team. Murray found the repetitions of runs over 100m, 200m and 400m particularly gruelling.

"I stopped in the middle of one of the sessions and sat down on the track," Murray said. "I was doing 200s and I just couldn't do it. I wasn't strong enough. I sat down for 10 minutes and Jez came over and said that I still had five more to do and that I could take my time if I wanted. I finished the session, but took more recovery time in between. I came back six days later and did the session, but one or two seconds faster. That was probably the toughest one for me.

"Around the middle of a session you start to feel a bit sorry for yourself and you wonder why you're doing it," he added. "At the end, when you can actually see the finish line, you start to think to yourself that this is the reason why you're doing this.

"If you're at the end of a long five-set match and you're not feeling great then you know that you are going to be feeling a lot better than you are at the end of that 400m track.

"That's the reason why I do it, to give myself that extra confidence in my ability at the end of long matches."

Murray's possible route to the final

First round: Andrei Pavel (Romania)

On their only previous encounter, in the 2005 US Open, Murray was sick on court but won in five sets. He should have less trouble now: Pavel has not played for 11 months because of a back injury.

Second round: Marcel Granollers (Spain)

Reached the semi-finals in Chennai in his first tournament of 2009. The 22-year-old world No 50 won his only title in Houston last year and is at his best on clay.

Third round: Jürgen Melzer (Austria)

Went within two points of beating Murray in last year's US Open after winning the first two sets. Lost in four sets to the Scot in a subsequent Davis Cup tie at Wimbledon.

Fourth round: Radek Stepanek (Czech Republic)

The seedings suggest Murray should meet Fernando Verdasco, but the Spaniard lost to Stepanek in last week's Brisbane final and meetshim again in Melbourne. Murrayhas beaten the Czech in their only two meetings.

Quarter-final: James Blake (US)

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the scheduled opponent but is struggling with a back injury. Blake beat Murray in their only meeting, on clay in Hamburg three years ago, but has fallen to No 10 in the world.

Semi-final: Rafael Nadal (Spain)

Won his first five matches against Murray but lost their last meeting, in last year's US Open semi-finals. Injured at the end of 2008 and has made an indifferent start this year.

Final: Roger Federer (Switzerland)

Has lost his last three matches against Murray, but beat him in the Scot's only appearance in a Grand Slam final at last year's US Open. Victory here would equal Pete Sampras's record of 14 major titles.