Weight room keeps Murray in shape for Games gold

Boosted by his Masters triumph, the world No 6 is banking on gym work to lift him to higher glory
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The Independent Online

It will not be the ideal way to prepare for an Olympic Games. Having played nine matches in 12 days in draining heat and humidity, Andy Murray was due to arrive back in London this morning after an overnight flight from Cincinnati.

Tomorrow he will board a flight to Beijing – via a stopover in Helsinki – before arriving here on Thursday, just three days before the start of the tennis tournament.

Not that Murray minds paying the price of success, having enjoyed the biggest victory of his career with his 7-6, 7-6 win over Novak Djokovic in the final of the Cincinnati Masters on Sunday. Speaking on the telephone before heading for home, he said last night: "I'd rather be in this position than going to Beijing early after losing in the first round. Of course, ideally I'd like to have more time to relax and get used to the venue and the whole Olympic atmosphere, but I'll just have to deal with it."

Murray's first Masters Series title, following his run to the semi-finals in the previous week's event in Toronto, took the 21-year-old Scot to No 6 in the world rankings, his highest ever position.

He will start as one of the favourites to win Olympic gold alongside the two other form players of recent weeks, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. The only top 10 player absent from a highly competitive field is Andy Roddick, who wants to concentrate on the US Open.

The conditions will be extremely testing, but Murray copes with heat and humidity better than most. Both were major factors in Cincinnati, but the British No 1 never wilted in a final that lasted two hours and 23 minutes and featured many lengthy rallies.

"I've been playing a lot of matches, but right now I feel fine both physically and mentally," Murray said. "The humidity this week was unbelievable. It was well over 100 degrees out on court yesterday.

"I've played well in these conditions this week, but they're not conditions that you would want to play in all the time. It's tough after matches to make sure you're properly hydrated and eating the right sort of food. You can lose quite a lot of weight playing in those conditions.

"The humidity gets to your breathing a little bit and gets you out of breath a lot. Obviously, you sweat more, which makes you feel more tired."

Asked where he found his mental strength, Murray said: "It comes from training and the gym work that you do off the court, because that eliminates all your possible excuses.

"You go on the court in great shape, doing the right things, because you've been doing the right things off the court. You get on the court thinking about tennis, not worrying whether you've practised enough or done enough work in the gym. I feel much better physically."

It would be hard to overstate the significance of Murray's Cincinnati success. There are nine Masters series tournaments, which are one level down from the Grand Slam events, and he is the first Briton to win one since Tim Henman in Paris five years ago.

The fact that Murray beat Djokovic, who was sweeping all before him earlier this year, will reinforce his confidence. Until last month the Australian Open champion had won all four of his meetings with his friend and rival from their days on the junior circuit and brushed him aside for the loss of only four games in Monte Carlo less than four months ago.

Murray's win on Sunday, however, came just a week after his first victory over the Serb. "Once you've beaten someone for the first time you have the feeling you can do it again," Murray said. "It also gets into the head of the other player when they've beaten you a few times and then you've broken that run."

In Saturday's semi-finals Djokovic had ended Nadal's 32-match winning run with a vibrant attacking game, but Murray offered stiffer resistance. His returns had been effective throughout the tournament, helping him to break serve 19 times in 52 games over the week. Djokovic regularly struggled to hold his serve in the first set before Murray won the tie-break with something to spare.

Having broken back to 2-2 in the second set, Murray served for the match at 5-3 only to squander four match points as Djokovic went on to force another tie-break.

The Scot eventually converted his sixth match point. Murray has shown in the past that he has the game to beat the best, but has often failed to perform consistently on the biggest stages.

However, he said that his recent back-from-the-dead Wimbledon win over Richard Gasquet, which took him into his first Grand Slam quarter-final, had been a key to building his confidence.

The Briton's main goal, to be seeded in the top eight for the US Open in three weeks' time, has been achieved and he is now looking forward to the Olympic experience. "I can't wait," said Murray, who will also partner his brother Jamie in the doubles.

"Quite a few of the tennis players are staying in hotels but I don't understand why they're doing that. Having made the decision to play in the Olympics, I wouldn't want to be staying anywhere other than in the athletes' village. It will be a great experience to be around the best athletes in the world and to speak to some of them."