Practising with a journeyman professional who never went higher than No 377 in the world singles rankings might have seemed a strange way for Andy Murray to prepare for his Wimbledon quarter-final this afternoon, but Johan Brunstrom has one crucial quality. The 33-year-old Swede from Fiskebackskil – which might sound like a Swedish football term for talented defenders but is actually a fishing community on the country's west coast – is a left-hander.
Murray has played 36 matches so far in 2013, but when he takes on Fernando Verdasco on Centre Court it will be his first meeting with a left-hander this year. Indeed, the last time he met a leftie was when he beat Feliciano Lopez at last summer's US Open. Brunstrom, who is the world No 55 in doubles, stands 6ft 4in tall and spent much of Murray's practice session reminding the Scot what it is like to return serve against a left-hander.
"I don't mind playing left-handers," Murray said as he looked ahead to his sixth successive Wimbledon quarter-final. "I grew up playing with my brother, so it doesn't normally take me that long to adjust. It's just the serve that takes me a while.
"Playing a left-hander is the same on pretty much all surfaces," he added. "But playing on clay, the top-spin they put on the ball, especially on the serve, is different to grass. On grass the ball slides through the court more and so it comes away from you, whereas on clay it kind of moves the opposite way."
Murray has beaten Verdasco eight times out of nine but has not played the Spaniard since beating him over three tight sets in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in 2009.
"I know him fairly well," Murray said. "I have practised with him a little bit and I know his team fairly well. Darren [Cahill] obviously helped him quite a bit so I know him a bit through that as well.
"I get on pretty well with him. He's a nice guy, pretty relaxed. He spends a lot of time in the gym. He works hard and he has just switched coaches to Richie Sanchez, who has done a very good job with most of the guys he has worked with. They'll have their tactics ready so it will be tough."
Having spent a key part of his teenage years training at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, Murray has always had an affinity with Spanish players, though he regrets not having learned more of their language.
"I can understand a fair amount, I'm just not comfortable speaking it," he said. "I haven't done it for a while. I bought the Rosetta Stone stuff a few years ago and I was doing it religiously for a couple of months. It wasn't like I stopped. I was probably two-thirds of the way through it and then someone stole my backpack at an airport. That was all the discs and stuff gone and I never got back into it."
Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach, and Dani Vallverdu, his friend and hitting partner, were studying a video of Verdasco's latest match. They will discuss tactics with Murray, who plans to watch some of the Spaniard's fourth-round victory over Kenny de Schepper this morning.
Verdasco, who has a big forehand but has often had a hit-and-miss reputation, has dropped only two sets in his first four matches. Murray has won all 12 sets he has played, though his ongoing back problem is a concern. Although the world No 2 insists that it is not an issue, he needed extra treatment on his back after his fourth-round defeat of Mikhail Youzhny.
Given Verdasco's own injury issues over the last year, the Spaniard is just pleased to be here. "I'm happy how I played the whole tournament," he said. "The next match is going to be just one more match for me. Of course it's going to be a special match because it's going to be against Murray here in the Wimbledon quarter-finals. But I'm going to go out there and try to play my game like I have done in every match and like I try to do every match that I play.
"Of course I know it's going to be a tough match. He's the No 2 of the tournament. He's a great player, one of the best players in the last years on tour. Of course it's going to be difficult to beat him, also with the crowd and everything. You need to have faith and try your best to win.
"The last two years haven't been good for me and my ranking shows that. It has gone down a lot and I lost a lot of confidence every time I lost in the first round. I started questioning myself. I started asking why I couldn't find the form that I had before, but I started training well the week before Madrid [in May] and since Madrid the feeling has been really different for me. I have felt much better.
"In Rome I only lost to [David] Ferrer and in Paris I lost to [Janko] Tipsarevic in five sets, so the feelings I have now are the ones I have had in the last five months. They are the best feelings I have had in my career. I feel more relaxed than ever and that helps. It's a tranquillity that I'm responding to well."
If Verdasco wins, look out for his victory celebration. After his last win the Spaniard did a dance mimicking his compatriot El Fary, an actor and singer who died six years ago. "If I win maybe I will do it again," Verdasco said. "Let's see."Reuse content