Murray’s muscles are ready. Is he?

It’s called the deltoid. To you and me it’s called the shoulder muscle. When Andrew Murray first achieved prominence in the summer of 2005 the soft tissue surrounding the top of his arms was just that. Soft, weak, underdeveloped and fragile.

The same man, now Andy Murray, was pictured on the Melbourne Park practice courts this week. He was stripped to the waist, seeking a light pink tinge that is fluent of most Scots earthed beneath a glimpse of Mr Sunshine. But now those shoulder muscles have swollen up, roaring ferociously with a very British stubbornness. Given the pressure he now finds himself under from his millions of fans back home, it is somewhat understandable that he has beefed up just in time for what could be his golden moment, given the burden he now carries on those 23 year old shoulders.

He heads into tomorrow’s Australian Open final having conceded just two sets in the tournament thus far. His form has been nothing short of exceptional. With a new found sense of brutality that has been lacking in recent Grand Slam tournaments, he has diminished the hopes of opponents with the minimal of fuss, his consistent yet at times eccentric style of play proving far too much for those with far less ability.

In line with the progressive difficulties that a major tournament poses, his sternest test in Melbourne came in his previous match when he faced Spain’s David Ferrer in the semi-final. Ferrer, an unbelievably fierce competitor, gave Murray the run around, chasing down every ball from the warm up to the hand shake. The Spaniard’s experience propped his head up at times when the match was swaying towards Murray. Undeterred by the tangible resistance posed by the scoreboard, Ferrer fought hard when he seemed down and out, at times salvaging a break point deficit to remain in the match.

Yet the difference, in just under four hours, was the man from Dunblane’s ability to win the big points, the crucial points, the turning points. Two of the sets were decided on tie-breaks, both of which were won comfortably by Murray. In these moments, having battered felt for all his worth over the best part of an hour, the last thing he would want to do is succumb to poor concentration at six games apiece.

Such an affliction has bruised Murray in previous Grand Slam finals, losing a crucial tiebreak to Roger Federer in the Rod Laver Arena last year. In those days his temper, at times, looked to get the better of him. His tempestuous relationship with his racket often distracted his head from the task in hand. Often manifesting into complete self-destruction, his anger and lack of self-awareness on the court hindered his tilt at a major title.

Murray, by no means an angel on court, has often been culpable of an audible profanity, a sulk, a tantrum or an umpire gripe. It’s tempting to draw comparisons between Murray and Harry Enfield’s fictitious teenage brat, Kevin.

But experience provides an appreciation of patience and concentration, and besides a second set wobble against Ferrer, Murray focused sufficiently to glide through to the final.

His opponent come Sunday will play with the hand he has chosen that day. In Novak Djokovic, Murray faces a man whose performance just cannot be predicted. It seems odd to question the Serbian’s threat, but here you have a man who at times has a game unequalled even to the great Federer and Nadal, but on other occasions drops his wrists and prods at the ball with an apathy befitting of a man who would rather be anywhere else. But an enigma Djokovic is not: he won here in 2008 and has quite rightly affirmed his position this year as the third best player in the world.

Rankings count for little in a one-off match of such prestige, though. If Murray can keep the head and stick to what he is good at, he is more than capable of etching his name on the winner’s trophy.

To be successful though, however ludicrous it may sound, Murray must play with the arrogant dismissiveness of a young buck wreaking havoc at the top table. His tenacity, petulance and burning belly get the best out of him. A calm demeanour is not in his make-up. Instead, he must come out fighting, using his serve and groundstrokes to choke Djokovic into baseline errors.

Ultimately, Murray must win the big points. In such a tense finale at least one tie-break is almost inevitable. The Scot will take great heart from his ruthless display against Ferrer in their first-to-seven mini battles, and if history is to repeat itself he must atone for a sluggish start in previous outings.

Millions will be watching in Britain and the world over to see if Murray can attempt to disperse the Nadal/Federer monopoly of titles in recent years. His shoulders are primed, muscles rippling. Come 8.30am on Sunday, he will feel the full weight of a nation’s expectancy.

Paul Barnes


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