Andy Murray's Spanish inquisition as he steps up tilt at Wimbledon title
The build-up to Wimbledon has been longer than ever for Andy Murray but for the Scot there is at last only one day to go.
Twenty-four hours after Novak Djokovic plays the traditional opening match on Centre Court this afternoon as defending champion, it will be Murray's turn to open his campaign against Mikhail Kukushkin.
With an extra seven days inserted between the French Open and Wimbledon, which from this year onwards is being played a week later, players have more chance to hone their grass-court game. Most have played at least one tournament and taken the opportunity to spend more time on the practice court.
Murray, who will have both Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman to coach him over the next fortnight, has practised with a number of different players, including Rafael Nadal.
The idea of practising with your major rivals is a surprise to some observers, who point out that you would not expect to see Floyd Mayweather sparring with Manny Pacquiao or Chelsea and Manchester United players contesting a five-a-side match in training.
The Scot said he left the choice of practice partners to Mauresmo and Bjorkman. As for Nadal, Murray said: "Normally the week before, or really before any tournament, I always try to practise with one leftie just in case you play one. Then once the draw comes out, I will maybe speak to them a bit more about who I practise with and try to find someone who is similar. Like if I play Kukushkin, I will practise with guys who are right-handed with a two-handed backhand."
He added: "There are some players that I don't like practising with, whether it is because of their game style or I don't feel like I get a good rhythm or maybe I have had a bad practice with them in the past or whatever.
"I used to practise with Rafa all the time. I haven't practised with him so much lately because I was obviously injured for a while and then he was injured for a bit. It is also good a few days before a major event starts to almost test yourself against one of the best players in the world because they will exploit things that you are not doing well.
"If you maybe practise with someone who is [ranked] 70 or 80, you can still have a great practice and obviously they are fantastic players, but there are some things that you can maybe get away with, whereas if you are doing something badly and making the same mistake repeatedly against the best players, they punish you for that. That is why I think it is good sometimes to practise with the best."
However, Murray said he would not generally practise with top players during a tournament. "On an off-day between matches during a tournament there might be something in the match that you haven't done well," he said. "You just want to have your own time to practise those things. Obviously some of the days I will just hit with Jonas because I will just be able to do some of the things I didn't think were going well or something I think might work in the next match.
"You don't always want all of the players - especially the top guys, maybe players you might play at the end of an event - to know the things you are practising or working on so much. Whereas before the event, when you are playing sets and stuff, it is good to play against them."
Bjorkman loved playing at Wimbledon and has regularly attended as a commentator since retiring, but this will be his first experience here as a coach. "For me, this is the biggest event you can play," he said. "That was my biggest dream: to be part of Wimbledon one year and participate and play. My dream was to win one year. I can understand that everyone gets fanatical about the tournament because it is unique.
"Every year when I come to Wimbledon I feel like a kid during Christmas when I walk in there. It's that special."
The next fortnight could give Bjorkman a chance to compare dance notes with Judy Murray. Earlier this year the former world No 4 took part in Sweden's equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing, which drew huge TV audiences. He finished third behind the skier Ingemar Stenmark and a singer, Marie Serneholt.
Bjorkman, who won three Wimbledon doubles titles, admitted that he had earned more fame in Sweden through the dancing programme than he had as a tennis player. "I think people can relate to you more because you go completely out of your comfort zone," he said. "I think people are more relaxed to come up and say: 'Congratulations, your dancing was awesome.' Whereas if I won Wimbledon, I could see that people recognised me but they were a little bit more scared."
He added: "I could never have believed it would be so much fun. The first two days of each week was extremely stressful because my partner had all the steps and the choreography in her head and I could not see it. Finally when I saw the choreography I felt more relaxed.
"Every time there was a live performance there was no problem for me. It was like going in on Centre Court. And I think tennis is nice because we never know when matches [will start], so we are very relaxed. We can then switch on and off very well, which helped me of course during the dancing."