Like most Scotsmen, Andy Murray put on a few pounds over the winter period. Six pounds five to be exact. But while his compatriots were being served turkey, neeps and tatties, and giving their forearms a work-out with friends, Murray, from Dunblane, was eating Japanese sushi and increasing his muscle mass in a Miami gymnasium.
The results have been magnificent. The 21-year-old is undefeated in 2009 after triumphs at the World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi and the first event of the ATP Tour, the Qatar Open, in Doha. But Murray is the first to admit that these wins will be deemed inconsequential if he chokes on tennis' most major stage.
The Australian Open gets under way at Melbourne Park on Monday and if the world No4 – seeded fourth – accomplishes the goal he has dreamt of for the past eight years, he will become the first British male to win a Grand Slam singles title since Fred Perry in 1936.
The irony that, in the year marking the 100th anniversary of Perry's birth, Britain could finally boast a Grand Slam winner will not be lost on Murray: He has been sponsored by Perry's eponymous clothing label since he won the US Open junior championship in 2004. It will also not go unnoticed by Murray's new management team, 19 Entertainment, led by marketing maestro Simon Fuller.
The deal between "19" and Murray – which includes brother Jamie, the No1 British doubles player – will begin on March 1 and will look to establish the US Open finalist as a household sporting name to rival fellow client David Beckham, as well as using American partners Creative Artists Agency (CAA), to help promote him in the United States. It is reported to be worth £100m (Dh535m).
"A lot of the management companies knew my deal was coming up," Murray told Emirates Business recently when asked about his partnership with Fuller, the creator of Pop Idol.
"At the end of my last deal – I was with Octagon beforehand – I sat down and spoke with a few companies and decided I wanted to go with Ace Group. And that was the right way forward for me. This time I met with Simon and really liked his ideas. He is more a sort of entrepreneur than an out-and-out agent.
"They have got a great list of clients – not just in the music industry, but sport as well – and the company they align themselves with, CAA Sports, have some of the top athletes in the world.
"I think after the year I had last year I needed to move on and I think they are a great company for me."
The London-based team's initial plans were reported to be to dispatch Fred Perry and negotiate Murray a seat at the top table of clothing endorsements. The Times of London reported Murray had already inked a £3 million (Dh16.5m) deal with K-Swiss, the label which also sponsors Russian Anna Kournikova.
But Murray denied the deal has been signed and insisted he has no plans to change apparel manufacturers.
"No, that's not true," he replied irritatedly when questioned. "I still have a year and a bit to go…"
Murray's abruptness is sure to be a cause for concern. Despite having mellowed noticeably in the past 12 months, he remains one of the least approachable players on the Tour – a characteristic Fuller and Co will be keen to alter.
Michael Hughes, executive director of strategy at Dubai-based The Brand Union, says, while a Grand Slam victory would undoubtedly provide the Scot a host of endorsement opportunities, his temperament will continue to hamper his overall marketing potential.
"Being a success on the court doesn't necessarily mean that this creates brand equity," said Hughes.
"If Murray wins a Grand Slam it would nearly be as big as when Lewis Hamilton won the Formula One World Championship last year. Hamilton was already very popular and now has reached superstardom. Nevertheless, Murray is the exact opposite to Hamilton and might therefore not be as marketable. Hamilton has the suave looks, pop star girlfriend, jet set lifestyle. He is also seen as intelligent and articulate. Andy Murray is your grumpy teenager who snaps at journalists and doesn't want to be in the limelight, so his brand ambassador appeal could be quite limited, despite his success."
Tennis' ultimate brand ambassador is world No2 Roger Federer, who earned $26 million in 12 months through deals with companies such as Gillette, Wilson and Nike.
Murray may have beaten the Swiss star on the court twice since he embarked on his physical training regime in Miami, but his new management company will likely have him doing some training of a whole other nature as they push to develop Brand Murray.
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