The slick suits and the posh frocks are ready and waiting in wardrobes up and down the country as the great and the good of British sport prepare for the BBC’s celebration of a remarkable sporting year. However, for one of the leading contenders for the biggest prize on Sunday, glitz and glamour is not on the agenda.
Instead of basking in the glory of his own momentous year or sharing a grateful nation’s plaudits alongside the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Jessica Ennis, Andy Murray will be submitting himself to his daily dose of pain and suffering at his winter training camp in Miami.
A BBC film crew will be on hand to beam back to Britain live pictures of Murray during this weekend’s Sports Personality of the Year programme, but the US Open and Olympic champion will probably sit down to watch the finale only after at least part of his day’s work is done.
There is no more dedicated trainer than the 25-year-old Scot, who knows how the work he puts in now in Florida’s heat and humidity could be crucial in the months ahead, particularly with the first Grand Slam tournament of next year, the Australian Open, only a month away. However tempting it might have been to join the BBC jamboree back home, Murray has resisted the opportunity to give himself a break from his annual boot camp. The temperature in Florida was forecast to rise to 83F, with humidity peaking at 93 per cent.
“The first tournaments of the year are in one of the hottest places you can play in the middle of the Australian summer,” Murray said. “If I missed three or four days of training and if I were to get tired in the fifth set of the final of the Australian Open and struggled physically for the last 10 or 15 minutes, who knows - those three days could make that little bit of difference.”
This year’s Australian Open demonstrated the need to be in peak physical condition. Murray lost a memorable five-set semi-final that lasted 10 minutes short of five hours. The winner, Novak Djokovic, picked himself up two days later to beat Rafael Nadal in another epic: at five hours and 53 minutes their final was the longest in Grand Slam history.
The fitness of modern-day players has helped to make tennis one of the most demanding of sports. Gone are the days when a teenager - even a freakishly strong youngster like Boris Becker - could take the game by storm. Today’s champions need the power and stamina that comes with years of hard work, as well as the supreme skill and vision that separate the best from the rest.
Brad Gilbert, one of Murray’s former coaches, was one of the first to encourage the Scot to spend his winters sweating in Florida. The December training block in Miami has now become as fixed a part of the world No 3’s calendar as his first outings on clay each spring or his pre-Wimbledon preparations at Queen’s Club.
It helps that the 2004 US Open junior champion has always enjoyed his visits to America. He owns an apartment in Miami, not far from Crandon Park, the tennis centre where he does his on-court work and which hosts the annual Miami Masters tournament.
“It’s 15 minutes from where I stay, so I always practise there on the centre court,” Murray said. “It’s good to practise there. It’s always very, very windy, so when you go and play in places that aren’t that windy, the conditions feel much nicer.”
Murray goes to the beach for training runs and does most of his track and gym work at the University of Miami. There are also opportunities locally to practise bikram yoga, which is done in a heated room to ease joints and muscles.
“The start of the training block’s always hard because you’ve taken time off and you’ve not really been doing anything - pretty much just resting - so your fitness levels drop a little bit,” Murray said. “The start of the training block is one of the toughest physical periods of the year for me. It’s normally pretty tough. But towards the end of the training block you start to feel good. I’ve always started the year pretty well. I’ve always played well the first week of the year, so the training that I’ve done has obviously worked.”
Although the first part of the training block is focused on physical work, Murray has been keen to spend plenty of time on court. It was exactly a year ago that he made his first approach to Ivan Lendl about becoming his coach. They agreed a deal at the end of the year, but such was the intensity of the 2012 tournament schedule that the two men were rarely able to enjoy quality time together on the practice court.
Lendl, who has a property up the coast at Vero Beach, has been joined in Miami by Dani Vallverdu, Murray’s long-time friend and hitting partner, Jez Green, the Scot’s fitness trainer, and Andy Ireland, his physiotherapist. Kim Sears, Murray’s girlfriend, has joined him on the trip, while his mother, Judy, who is in Florida in her role as Britain’s Fed Cup captain to see Heather Watson at her Bradenton base, has also paid a visit.
Murray often invites other British players to work with him. Jamie Baker, a fellow Scot, and last year’s US Open junior champion, Oliver Golding, and his coach, Julien Hoferlin, have joined Murray on this year’s trip, to the delight of Leon Smith, the head of men’s and women’s tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association.
“How good is that for those guys?” Smith said. “It spreads the word. Jamie will come back to the National Tennis Centre and tell everyone what he was doing with Andy, telling them how Andy gets up at 6am and runs miles and miles on South Beach, how he’s doing bikram yoga, doing weights, playing three hours a day. That raises everything. Golding’s coach will see what’s going on and bring that back too. It’s about changing our culture. Andy has shown how much work is needed to get there. I’m really grateful to Andy offering such an opportunity to those players.”
Murray’s 12-hour working day in Florida allows little time for anything else, though he has season tickets to watch the Miami Heat and enjoys mutual support from two of the basketball team’s biggest names, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
After another 10 days’ work Murray will spend the briefest of Christmases at home - his first in Britain for four years - but will be jetting off again on Christmas Day for Abu Dhabi, where he will be playing in an exhibition tournament. He makes his first competitive appearance in the first week of the new year in Brisbane, where he will link up again with Lendl. After another week’s work in Melbourne it will be time for the year’s opening Grand Slam event at the Australian Open.
The recently retired Andy Roddick, who played alongside Murray in an exhibition event in Miami earlier this month, has watched in admiration as the Scot has climbed the sport’s highest mountains.
“The game has got more physical and the schedule has got longer - it’s a really difficult sport physically and mentally,” Roddick said. “He gets it. He gets what it takes. It just seems that over the years he became more and more motivated, perhaps because of the pressures that were put on him. He almost took it the other way and ratcheted it up and worked harder. That is something you respect.”
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Has spent much of his off-season travelling. Played an exhibition event in Brazil, was in London to receive an award last weekend and is taking part in a pro-am event in the Virgin Islands this week. Monte Carlo, where he lives, is his winter training base. He plays in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi after Christmas and in the Hopman Cup in Perth in the first week of January.
Currently in Argentina, where he is playing exhibition matches against Juan Martin del Potro, having previously visited Brazil. Trained in Dubai immediately after the end of the season and will return there to complete his preparations for Melbourne. Has no plans to play in any tournaments before the Australian Open.
Has not played since Wimbledon because of a recurrence of his knee problems, but has been working hard on his fitness and recently returned to the court. Confirmed this week that he plans to play in the post-Christmas exhibition event in Abu Dhabi. Has also entered Qatar Open in first week of new year.