TENNIS The key to Murray's success: Hot Yoga!
By SUSIE MESURE
Sunday 27 January 2013
Whatever the outcome in Melbourne this morning, Andy Murray can rest assured that he is one of the world's hottest players. And thanks to the remarkable new training programme that helped to turn him into a Grand Slam champion, this is as true off the court as on it.
The world No 3 has credited his decision to practise yoga in temperatures of 40C and above for much of his improved performance. He believes the sweaty workout has transformed him both physically and mentally, helping him to compete at the very highest levels.
Murray has said of Bikram, the 26-posture sequence that takes 90 minutes to complete, that: "Until you do it you can't comment on how difficult it is. It's tough. It's ugly." It's also effective, as his win last September in New York over today's rival, Novak Djokovic, showed.
The 25-year-old from Dunblane started practising Bikram five years ago on the advice of his conditioning coach, Matt Little. A number of tennis players have since followed him into the hot studio, including the British No 2, Laura Robson.
Olga Allon, the studio director at Hot Bikram Yoga who introduced Murray to the discipline, said it had been "pivotal" for the champion. "We built up a very strong relationship. It was a turning point in the way he trained. It helped improve his flexibility and helped to balance his body, which is very important for a tennis player."
She added that practising Bikram had also helped Murray mentally. The player has done a much better job of controlling his famous fiery temper in recent years, as well as having the crucial self-belief to clinch victories. "The mental aspect is incredibly helpful for Andy Murray and other athletes, because they learn to stay incredibly focused, which is hard, especially when you are learning to breathe in difficult postures like standing on one leg."
Bikram, which was invented – and patented – by the Los Angeles-based Bikram Choudhury more than 30 years ago, is not without its critics, who dislike the way the discipline has been turned into a money-making venture and worry that exercising in extreme heat can cause injuries as well as help to prevent them.
But the sports therapist Michael Cole, of Starinjuries.com, is among its fans. "I imagine Andy Murray uses it as much to help him recover as anything else.
"Stretching can help to clear waste products from muscles. Heat also adds a psychological element. If as an élite athlete it makes you feel better psychologically, then that's no bad thing."
As well as tennis players, a number of footballers are keen devotees. Ms Allon, who has three studios across London, said a number of players from Fulham and Chelsea football clubs had taken up Bikram.
Among those willing Murray on this morning, both in Melbourne and closer to home, will be Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond. "I know I won't be the only one glued to the television as the whole of Scotland cheers Andy on."
His mother, Judy, said yesterday: "Now he's won one, now that he's 25, he's much more mature mentally and physically and he's very confident. He knows what it's about and how to prepare for them, so he's in a much better mindset to handle a final."
It is Murray's third attempt to win at Melbourne Park in four years. Djokovic, the world No 1, will be trying to become the first man to win three successive Australian titles since 1967, when Roy Emerson won his fifth in a row. The Scot will hope he can be the first to follow a maiden Grand Slam, at the US Open, with another in the next tournament.