What a difference a year makes. A major title still eludes him, but 2011 could yet prove pivotal for Andy Murray. We may think only of the near-misses, but following his third Grand Slam semi-final defeat of the season at the US Open in September, Britain’s number one went on a run of 18 straight wins and three straight titles at Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai that took him above Roger Federer to number three in the world.
This week he has the chance to confirm that progress at the season-ending event, the world’s biggest indoor tennis tournament at London’s O2 Arena. “If Andy wins this tournament, it will be the biggest win of his career,” says former ATP tour pro, and one-time GMTV presenter Andrew Castle, who these days dispenses his tennis wisdom for the BBC.
“Make no mistake, this isn’t some exhibition tournament. The players call it the Masters and they all desperately want to win it, so it’s hugely important. This year, Andy’s been playing his best tennis, so in my book he starts as second favourite and has a good chance of winning it. And if he wins one of these big ones, I’ve no doubt it will open the door to more.”
As well as fanatical home support, Murray will also be powered by his new diet. He maintains that cutting out gluten and dairy products has given him more energy and strength, as well as putting an end to his aversion to early-morning starts. “The main thing is that Andy feels it’s making a difference. Whether it actually is or not is irrelevant,” says Castle. “It can’t be very tasty, but he does look strong and chiselled on it.”
According to Castle, indoor tennis should help Murray’s game too. “It’s a medium-paced court which will suit Andy. You can mix up your game, serve big or slow it down. With indoor tennis, you know where the ball is going to go because there’s no wind or sun. And if you know exactly where the ball is going to be, you can take a real swing at it – so it suits Murray’s shotmaking style.
“It’s also great for fans, because the staging is very dramatic at the O2. The heavily lit court and subdued lighting on the crowd makes for a real sense of theatre.” Castle, like many British fans, will be hoping it’s Murray taking a bow when the curtain comes down.
This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale Tuesday 22 November
Coverage of ATP World Tour Finals Tennis is on Saturday and Sunday on Sky Sports 2 & 3 and BBC2