Andy Murray thrilled to mould success out of hard work on clay after Rome Masters win
It may not be the time to start calling him the new king of clay, but the transformation in Andy Murray's game on what had always been his most challenging surface has been remarkable.
It may also be true that it is not possible to teach an old dog new tricks, but as Murray enters his 30th year it is clear that the clay-court lessons he has learned over the years have finally sunk in.
Murray, who celebrated his 29th birthday on the day of his victory over Novak Djokovic in the final of the Rome Masters on Sunday, has always taken his clay-court tennis seriously. Several years ago he even brought a specialist Spanish coach, Alex Corretja, into his team to help with his development.
The rewards of all Murray's hard work on clay have come in the last two years. In 2015 he won the first clay-court titles of his career in Munich and Madrid and was unbeaten on clay when he went into the French Open, where he reached the semis.
In this season's three clay-court Masters Series events he reached the semi-finals in Monte Carlo, where he lost to Rafael Nadal, made the final in Madrid before losing to Djokovic and on Sunday became the first British man for 85 years to win the title in Rome. When this year's French Open starts in six days' time Murray, who returned to No.2 in the world rankings ahead of Roger Federer, will be among the favourites.
"I've played well on all of the surfaces, but in the last couple of years clay has probably been my most successful surface, which I never expected," Murray said.
"Maybe I didn't believe enough in myself. I always thought clay was my worst surface, but then last year, getting some wins against the best players made me realise things. My coaches had said that clay should really be my best surface, but it took me a long time to gain confidence.
"I made improvements in my movement. That has changed my mentality. I don't feel like I'm off-balance any more and I can chase most balls. It's an easy surface for me to move on now. My back also feels way better."
Sunday's victory was Murray's first tournament victory as a father. "It's been a big change in my life," he said. "I'm very, very positive. I think that it's going to have a positive effect on my tennis and the rest of my career. It gives me a bit of extra motivation, something more to play for.
"The last thing I looked at before I went on court (in the final) was a picture of my daughter. I feel like that's what I'm playing for now so that, in a few years hopefully, she can be proud of what I have achieved."
And so to the French Open, which is the only Grand Slam event where Murray has not reached the final. "I'll be going to Roland Garros with a lot of confidence," he said. "The conditions are slightly different. The matches are the best of five sets, which takes a little bit more physical and mental strength, but I feel like I'm on the right track.
"I've played Rafa and Novak a couple of times. I haven't won all of the matches, but I competed extremely well."