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Murray moving in the right direction

F or Andy Murray, an awful lot has changed in the space of 12 months.

Andy Murray has taken confidence from a good performance in Rome     Photograph: Getty
Andy Murray has taken confidence from a good performance in Rome Photograph: Getty

This time last year, the Scot was forced to miss the French Open because of a sore back, leaving him wondering if he would be ready for another crack at the Wimbledon title he so craved. Fast forward to today and the Wimbledon trophy (or at least a replica) is safely at home and after finally putting the back injury right in September through an operation, Murray is showing signs of returning to top form just at the right time.

Just being here at Roland Garros again has put Murray in good heart but like all top sportsmen, he needed a good performance to prove to himself he is in the right kind of shape, mentally and physically, for the unique tasks required to win Grand Slams.

That performance came in Rome last week when he outplayed Rafa Nadal, the man who has dominated clay-court tennis for a decade, and led 4-2 in the third before finally bowing out. It was a match that showed Murray how he needs to play on clay, but more importantly one that will have convinced him that he needs to play like that more often and not just against the very best players.

"If I'm struggling in a gym session or something, these are the events that make me want to keep going, to push through the hard training sessions and put the hours in on the court and in the gym," he said. "Each time I arrive at one of these events I feel very motivated, especially this year after missing last year."

The other obvious difference between this year and last is that Murray is not accompanied by Ivan Lendl, the coach who helped him become a Grand Slam champion.

Murray and Lendl split in March, the former world No 1 no longer willing to travel as much as Murray wanted, after just over two years in the job. It was a split that rocked Murray, who wanted stability, but as he moves closer to choosing a replacement - an announcement is likely in the next few weeks - the Scot said he was confident he could handle the extra pressure of going it alone.

"Ivan, in some people's eyes, added pressure for me," Murray said, "[but] in some people's eyes he took pressure off because some of the pressure was almost on him in a way.

"I think not coming with a main coach, maybe there is a little bit more pressure on me. But I feel like even when I've not been playing so well, when there has been pressure on me, it's helped me raise my game, it's helped me get nervous and excited to get going. So I hope that's the case here."

With no Lendl to call on, at least on the court - the pair have been in touch over the phone - Murray has turned to Darren Cahill, the Australian who coached Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi to the world No 1 ranking.

Cahill was the go-between for the Murray-Lendl partnership and as part of the Adidas player development programme he is available to all Adidas players, something Murray has taken advantage of on a number of occasions.

"Darren has been at a couple of the practices, just observing really," Murray said. "I haven't spoken to him loads at all about this tournament. When I haven't had a coach he's come to a load of my practices. Also when Ivan was around he'd just come along and watch. I have a good relationship with him and I enjoyed working with him in the time I did spend with him.

"There are a couple of people around, like Darren, who I speak to and obviously the guys I work with."

Murray begins his campaign against Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan, the world No 55, who came off second best on each of the two occasions they have met, although one was an exhibition at the Hopman Cup in Perth.

Never one to underestimate opponents, Murray knows better than to take Golubev lightly.

"He beat [Stan] Wawrinka in the Davis Cup this year," Murray said. "He's a very dangerous player, big forehand, goes for his shots, doesn't hold back. When he's on, he's a very tough guy to beat. But his form has been a bit inconsistent, just because of his game style. He plays exciting tennis, goes for big shots, and when he's on form makes it very difficult."

Murray will have been quietly pleased with his draw, with a quarter-final against Australian Open champion Wawrinka on the cards, followed by a likely semi-final against Nadal. A good run here would help lift Murray from No 8 back towards the top four, something that ought to aid his hopes at Wimbledon next month.

The back, he says, has healed nicely and having reached the last eight in Australia at the start of the year, just four months after surgery, his hopes here are that much greater, even if clay is traditionally his weakest surface.

Confidence, as ever, is key and Murray looks to be on the right track.

"I thought I played a fairly high level in the quarter-finals against Roger [Federer, in Melbourne]," he said. "Endurance wise, I probably wasn't quite ready to go the whole way there.

"The Davis Cup was fairly good for me but since then it has been very patchy, some good stuff mixed in with some bad tennis.

"But Rome was a good step forward. I need to build on that, take confidence from it and try to keep that consistency for the next four or five months if I can."

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