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Andy Murray's magical Asian swing

SHANGHAI -- In tennis press rooms the world over media members will sit around and discuss different players. They'll usually discuss them by first names: Rafa this, Novak that.

It sometimes gets tricky when there's a discussion about Andy. Eventually the question would come: which Andy? Andy Murray or Andy Roddick? The American and British writers resolved that problem by referring to the Andys as "Our Andy" or "Your Andy."

Nowadays, the Andy doing better is the Brits' Andy Murray. The 24-year-old's close to sitting on top of the tennis world.

His successful defense of his Shanghai Rolex Masters title this week -- he beat fifth-ranked David Ferrer of Spain 7-5, 6-4 in 1 hour, 46 minutes Sunday -- moves Murray into third place in the rankings behind No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Rafael Nadal. Murray's move up the corporate ladder bumps Roger Federer down to No. 4. The last time he ranked outside the top three was the week of June 23, 2003.

"I can't really finish the [year] No. 2 or 1," Murray said. "It would be nice to finish the year off No. 3 if I can because that would be the highest ranking I finished at. It's not the ultimate goal, but it's a step in the right direction."

Murray has stormed his way through the Asian swing to pick up a trifecta. He arrived in Shanghai having already laid claim to titles at Bangkok, where he beat Donald Young in the final, and Tokyo, where he defeated Nadal in the final. Since his semifinal loss at the U.S. Open, Murray's been untouchable, cruising on a 15-match winning streak.

The Shanghai victory delivered his eighth career title at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level event -- the most prestigious tournaments just after the Grand Slams. In all, he's won 21 career titles. And this year he holds a 52-11 match record with his worst period coming directly after his Australian Open final loss.

"I've just been working hard," Murray said. "[I] went into this stretch with the right mindset. After the U.S. Open finished, I sat down, kind of made some goals between now and the end of the year, gave myself that extra little motivation, that extra little push for the last few tournaments."

Although the other players are limping, gimping and generally crying fatigue, Murray's looking fresh as a daisy.

He credits his team (coach Dani Vallverdu, trainer Matt Little and physiotherapist Andy Ireland) for keeping him in top shape this fall.

Murray met Vallverdu a number of years ago when hanging out at his Brickell Avenue apartment in Miami. At the time, Vallverdu played for the University of Miami, and Murray often had him as a hitting partner.

There are those who can't quite wrap their heads around Murray's choice on coaching. They believe it's a serious flaw that he doesn't have a highfalutin' coach, someone who has been close to the top of the game themselves.

Murray, however, tried that concept with Brad Gilbert and it didn't work out. Gilbert, a walking tennis encyclopedia, can talk tennis and dissect matches nonstop. But the two high-strung personalities did not mesh.

Could Murray use a more seasoned voice in his corner? He probably could. But Murray, a stubborn sort, doesn't seem to feel comfortable with someone he can't be in charge of. And regardless of the fact that on face value the coach is hired -- and fired -- by the athlete, the more notable coaches like to be the boss.

Everything seems rosy when it comes to Murray, except if the goal is winning Grand Slam titles. And the whispers of discontent with the Scotsman will continue until he does win a Grand Slam title.

He's has the talent. He has a cracking first serve, a formidable return of serve and is savvy in constructing points. But he tends to be too content to slug it out from behind the baseline, especially when nervous, instead of being the aggressor playing within the court.

Nevertheless, where he really struggles is with having the right mindset when it's most important.

Murray's had three opportunities to nab a Grand Slam title -- the 2008 U.S. Open final he lost to Roger Federer, the 2010 Australian Open final in which he fell again to Federer, and the 2011 Australian Open final claimed by Novak Djokovic. He played brilliantly to reach those three finals, but came up empty-handed.

"He hasn't played well enough on any of the three final days, especially in the Djokovic final this year," said Neil Harman, the tennis correspondent from The Times (London). "It must be something in his head. There's absolutely nothing wrong with his tennis. The Andy Murray we see 95 percent of the time is not the Andy Murray we see 5 percent of the time in those finals. It's difficult to explain why."

Ferrer, however, believes that Murray is capable of putting all the pieces together to one day take over the tennis world.

"He can do it," said Ferrer, when asked if Murray could become world No. 1. "He's a very amazing player. I don't know when. The No. 1, 2, 3, and 4; they are all very close."

Beyond the lack of success at the Grand Slams, Murray's put together a season to admire. He's won five titles: London/Queen's Club, Cincinnati, Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai. Cincinnati and Shanghai boast Masters 1000 level status.

"I've been doing things more professionally this year," Murray said. "I've been looking after my body better. I've taken necessary breaks. Like before I went over to Bangkok, I didn't start hitting balls again until the Saturday and the tournament was starting on the Monday. So I've just been trying to pace myself a bit better, and that's definitely helped."

But without a Grand Slam trophy, Murray will remain under a microscope, especially at home, where they haven't had a male Grand Slam champion since Fred Perry in 1936.

Sandra Harwitt is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.