Andy Murray performed abysmally in the first of his warm-up exercises at the Wimbledon practice courts yesterday. As many leading sportsmen will tell you, the trickiest drills of the day are avoiding the autograph hunter and dodging the camera. Britain's leading tennis player failed spectacularly at both.
Just 15 hours after completing his thrilling fourth-round victory over Richard Gasquet, in near-darkness on Monday night, Murray was the focus of attention at Aorangi Park. Roger Federer and Marat Safin were also going through their routines, but all camera lenses were trained on Murray, who was accompanied by three of the most important members of his large entourage.
Miles Maclagan, Murray's coach, is always by his side, but in his moment of victory over Gasquet, the 21-year-old Scot's first thought was to send a gesture of thanks to Jez Green and Matt Little, the two fitness trainers who have done so much to improve his physical condition. Looking up to his support team, Murray rolled up a sleeve to show his bulging biceps.
"I've been putting in so much work off the court and it was the first time this year I've really had the chance to show it," he said later. "I just wanted to show that there are some muscles there."
In his first two years as a professional, Murray was a classic gangling teenager, though it was a conscious decision not to work too hard on his physique. "When you're 16 or 17, I think you need to be careful not to do too many weights because you're growing a lot," he said.
"Your muscles and your bones are still developing and it's easy to develop stress fractures or chronic problems. I eased off a little bit at that age. I spent a lot of time on court and not as much in the gym. Now I'm getting in the gym a lot and maybe not spending as much time on the court."
Three years ago, at his first Wimbledon, Murray led David Nalbandian by two sets but lost in five after suffering cramp in the closing stages. Cramp also cost him dearly in other matches, and when Brad Gilbert started coaching him two summers ago, the American encouraged him to work hard on his fitness. Murray consequently enjoyed his best start to a season and climbed into the world's top 10 before a wrist injury scuppered his hopes at Wimbledon last year.
After splitting from Gilbert last autumn, Murray decided to take his fitness work even more seriously and worked slavishly at a winter training camp in Florida with Green and Little. Andy Ireland, a physiotherapist, has also become a vital member of Team Murray.
Tennis requires a combination of physical attributes. The modern game, with its punishing schedule and high levels of fitness, is as much a test of strength as of skill. Players need the endurance to last through numerous long matches (the win against Gasquet took nearly four hours), speed to fly around the court and sheer physical power to hit shots. Of the exercises that Murray has been doing, the most punishing are the chin-ups that he performs with a 20kg disc attached to his waist, a flat-out 400- metre run and 20 sprints of 100 metres over a period of 20 minutes.
Green and Little have also introduced Murray to Bikram or "hot" yoga, in which exercises are performed in 40C heat to help with mental strength and to prepare for matches in high temperatures.
"I did some tough fitness work in the off-season and that's one of the hardest things to do," Murray said. "Just trying to hold postures and stay balanced and concentrated the whole time is really tough.
"Some of the training things I did made me realise how easy playing a tennis match was. When you do 10 400-metre sprints in the space of 10 or 15 minutes, and you're feeling like you're ready to throw up, that's when it helps you on the court.
"I know as I get to 22 or 23, I am going to get stronger. Right now, I need to do that by working really hard. Even if it is just a little work on your off days, it all adds up.
"I've become much more professional this year. I've travelled with a fitness trainer to every tournament so that I could keep on top of everything and I've also had a physio travelling with me."
Murray, who is tee-total, is also careful about what and when he eats. The importance of eating properly after exercise has become a key part of sports nutrition and, during his post-match press conference on Monday, Murray tucked into a plate of sushi.
Green recommends that Murray eats foods like sushi within 30 minutes of finishing long matches or training sessions. "It's a perfect mix of protein and carbohydrates," he said. "These rebuild his muscles and provide energy for subsequent matches. As he has been physically training really hard, his diet has become more and more important, especially in increasing his body weight." Six-foot-three and already weighing 12st 7lb, having put on more than half a stone over the winter, Murray believes he needs to add the same amount again to reach his optimum weight.
Will his body ever match that of the muscular Spaniard Rafael Nadal, his quarter-final opponent this afternoon?
"You've not seen me with my shirt off," Murray smiled. "I'm probably not going to be as big as him, but in terms of definition I think I'm up there. I measured my body fat recently and I was 6.5 per cent, which isn't bad."
Flex appeal: fitness secrets of the sports stars
After she won her sensational victory in the European 10,000 metres, Paula Radcliffe revealed the secret to her success: a 10-minute ice bath after every race. "It's absolute agony, and I dread it, but it allows my body to recover so much more quickly," she said. In her case, though, pain may not necessarily mean gain – a recent Australian study found that cold baths could do more harm than good.
Boxers aren't known for their complex training programmes – and Calzaghe is no exception. Speaking earlier this year before his fight with Bernard Hopkins, he said: "All I need for a training camp is my dad; a mountain to climb up; clean, fresh air; a boxing ring; and plenty of sparring partners. That's it plain and simple. No other experts required."
Even by the standards of 1992, when he won Olympic gold in Barcelona, Linford Christie used some surprisingly low-tech training methods. He would often tie a 25kg tyre to a rope, which he attached to a harness, and drag the tyre drag behind him on training runs. And as a boy in London's Shepherd's Bush, he would race the school bus home ... don't knock it, he's still the 100 metre British record holder.
The Olympic bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton goes beyond standard heptathlon training by using a computer programme to train her sight: "In hurdling, sighting [the bars] quickly enables me to deliver the skill better."
You could be forgiven for thinking that Jenson Button won't have to exert himself too much this weekend as he cruises around Silverstone race circuit in his million-pound car. But Formula One drivers are among the fittest sportsmen – their bodies have to endure 60 laps of punishing G-forces pulling them in all directions. So, Button goes beyond the demands made of him by his Honda team by competing in gruelling triathlons. Last week his completed the 42km cycle ride, 500m river swim and 10km circuit run of the Windsor triathlon.
Nutrition has always played a big role in athletes' fitness regimes. Even back in the Seventies, Geoff Capes, on the advice of his trainer and ex-Olympic hurdler Stuart Storey, used to eat samphire, a mineral-rich seaweed from the Lincolnshire coast. But Capes had a more ill-advised strategy for getting ahead – he started weighlifting when he was 11.
Andy Murray is a brave man to claim that he can win the battle of the biceps against Rafael Nadal's pumped-up muscles. Nadal might have been plagued by a chronic foot problem and tendonitis in both knees, but the strength of his biceps has never been in doubt. The secret it seems is to start training early – Nadal started playing tennis aged 11. Those biceps are due to time on court rather than in the gym. His left arm is bigger than his right; had he pumped up in a gym, he wouldn't be so out of balance.