Andy Murray happy to welcome the player who knows all his secrets

For Andy Murray the tennis jungle just got a little less lonely.

He was, naturally, happy for Jamie Baker when his close friend qualified for the Australian Open and then was slotted into the draw alongside Lukas Rosol, whose inspired final set in dismissing Rafael Nadal from Wimbledon last year will forever be remembered in stark relief alongside more modest achievements in his career.

But Murray also wanted Baker close at hand in a major because it is such a rarity for him to have, however briefly, a fellow Briton in a grand slam tournament. Each time he chases a title worth having, he does so by himself, unlike the Spaniards, who come in strength, or most of the old Iron Curtain countries, which continue to churn out wonderful players en bloc.

Tennis might be, as Murray contends, a sport of single-minded strength. But it would be foolish to deny the importance of having a familiar face in the locker room. Baker, pictured, who has known Murray since they were six years old, shared a brief moment of celebration with his more illustrious compatriot after qualifying here on Saturday, then spoke with admirable eloquence about their friendship.

"Having the access to an awareness of standards – he is basically right at the top, one of the best three in the world – and to see what he does on a daily basis has been great," Baker said on Sunday night, before getting to work on his game plan against Rosol.

"Just hitting balls with Andy is so eye-opening. At times I will come off the court and say: 'I just cannot understand how he has got that good.' I cannot relate to what he is doing with the ball compared to how hard I am trying to do similar things. I can't relate to it. But we are doing all our training sessions together and he isn't putting any more into it than I am.

"If I have anything on my mind or I want to ask him anything about my game, how to improve, he's there and it's on tap. We've known each other since I was about six years old.

"In terms of a friendship he's perhaps the only person in my life who I have known for that long. No matter what he does, there are no secrets between us. I know everything about him and vice versa. It's nice in a crazy tennis world to have someone like that."

Murray has always been there for him, Baker said, never more so than when he nearly died from a rare blood disease four years ago. For three days Baker was on life-support in a Florida hospital. "He was very supportive," Baker said. "My thing was just so freakish, the kind of thing you never think will happen to you until it actually does."

It was the unvarnished definition of proper friendship and Murray on Sunday expressed the depth of this loyalty when he declined to talk about it or about his concern for another tennis friend, Ross Hutchins, who has cancer.

Baker understands Murray's point of view. He knows him as well as anyone on the circuit and shares winter training facilities with him in Florida each year, acknowledging the brief stints as hugely helpful in the turnaround in his performances lately.

"We train differently but, if we went up against each other, he'd probably beat me in everything. Look at him, he's like a tank. The difference is that he has had six or seven years of a regular diet of that volume of training. When he first started working with Jez [Green] and Matt [Little], he was still training hard, so he's got to a point now where he can cope with anything which is thrown at him.

"When he first started with them his body wasn't in that position. This year I will plan in some training blocks before I look at competitions to see if that makes a difference."

Baker will know the gulf in their ambitions here and will have to lift his level considerably to ensure he gets past Rosol, while Murray has only hidden traps in front of him, the first of those the Dutchman Robin Haase, who gave him nightmares at the US Open over five sets.

Baker and Murray go back further than any other friends in tennis and the relationship sustains both of them.

"I remember going to one of my first under-10 tournaments at the Dunblane Tennis Club and we were playing in a round robin. He beat me 6-0. It was embarrassing. He had a double-handed forehand back then. Up until he was about 12 or 13 all he did was hit moon-balls. Everyone was saying: 'This guy has got no chance, he can't do anything with that.' And obviously his behaviour wasn't the best back then. If there was talent identification back then, it would have been tough for him!

"I have never won a match at a slam. Ranking-wise, it would make a massive difference, huge points, huge money and will set me up for the tougher schedule I aim to play this year. It boosts my position to get into those tournaments. I qualified, I am here, no one has given it to me. I lack confidence sometimes but I feel better if I have qualified on my own right. I don't owe anyone a good performance. I feel like I am good enough to be here.

"You get $3,500 to get through the first round of qualifying. If I lost in the first round I would be even. Not coming wasn't an option. I train too hard for that. It's good to get $1,000 from the organisers this year for sure, although I couldn't believe they gave it to everyone. They gave Andy a cheque for a thousand dollars. What's he going to do with that: have lunch at Nobu?"

Perhaps. And you would bet he would invite Baker.

Powered by article was written by Kevin Mitchell in Melbourne, for The Guardian on Sunday 13th January 2013 21.17 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Carine06