ANDY Murray will begin his 2015 season at the Hopman Cup in Perth alongside fellow British No 1 Heather Watson.
Murray teamed up with Laura Robson at the mixed team tournament in 2010 and 2011, with the pair reaching the final on their first appearance.
The national teams face each other in a round-robin format, with each match comprising a men’s singles, a women’s singles and a mixed doubles.
Both times Murray previously played at the Hopman Cup, he went on to reach the final of the Australian Open, losing to Roger Federer in 2010 and Novak Djokovic the following year.
The former Wimbledon champion said: “I find it very good preparation for the Australian Open. The organisers look after everyone extremely well there.
“You get at least three single matches, you get the mixed doubles as well, which is good fun, it sharpens up the net game. Now that it’s outdoors too, it’s absolutely perfect, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Murray warmed up for the Australian Open by winning the tournament in Brisbane in 2012 and 2013, while this year he played in Doha.
Watson, who has just climbed back into the top 50, will be making her debut at the Hopman Cup, which begins on 4 January.
She said: “This will be the first time Andy and I will have played mixed doubles so I hope we can do our best to win the Hopman Cup. That would be brilliant.”
The Australian team has also been announced, with Wimbledon star Nick Kyrgios joining Perth native Casey Dellacqua.
Murray returns to action today when he faces Portugal’s world No 37 Joao Sousa at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Sousa edged through to the second round with a 5-7, 7-6, 7-6 win over qualifier and world No 172 Chase Buchanan yesterday.
Britain’s James Ward posted his first ever win at a Masters series event to reach the second round in Cincinnati. The British No 2 beat two top-100 players in qualifying and defeated a third in Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round.
Ward, who will now play either Julien Benneteau or Blaz Rola, recovered from losing the second set to triumph 6-2 3-6 6-1 against the world No 72.
Ward has had a good run on the North American hard courts at second-tier Challenger level and carried that form into yesterday’s match.
Garcia-Lopez, in contrast, was on a four-match losing run and his lack of confidence showed in a lacklustre opening set.
Ward then missed eight break points in the first game of the second and was made to pay as Garcia-Lopez levelled the match. But the British player responded superbly with a super solid deciding set, winning the first five games and clinching victory on his first match point.
Ward is only 11 places adrift of his highest ever ranking of 137 and has already guaranteed himself $21,945 in prize money.
Ninth seed Ana Ivanovic had few troubles in beating Sorana Cirstea 6-1, 7-5, while Samantha Stosur saw off Varvara Lepchenko 6-2, 7-5.
Flavia Pennetta edged a tough battle with Chanelle Scheepers 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 6-2 and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets 6-3 6-3.
In the men’s draw, world No 14 John Isner comfortably beat Kevin Anderson 6-3 6-4, while Frenchman Nicolas Mahut slumped to a 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) defeat to Australian qualifier Marinko Matosevic.
Mahut’s countryman Gilles Simon made no such mistakes against Bernard Tomic as he won 6-3, 6-2, while 15th seed Fabio Fognini was taken to three sets by Edouard Roger-Vasselin but he came out on top 6-4, 4-6 7-6 (7/5).
Elsewhere, Rafa Nadal will decide by the end of this week whether he is fit enough to defend his US Open title after suffering a right wrist injury that ruled him out of two tune-up events, the Spaniard’s spokesman said yesterday.
“He went for a check up today in Barcelona and the imagery looks as predicted. He will practice in the next days and decide on Friday or Saturday,” his spokesman said ahead of the year’s grand slam which starts later this month.
The 28-year-old Majorcan left-hander sustained the injury during practice last month and has been training with a cast on his right wrist.
Nadal was forced to withdraw from last week’s Rogers Cup in Toronto and this week’s Cincinnati Open, putting in doubt his participation at the year’s final grand slam at Flushing Meadows in New York starting on 25 August.
Last week the world No 2 posted a picture of himself working on court with his uncle and coach Toni in which a black wrist support was clearly visible.
“Making the most of these days to continue training, always with desire and optimism,” Nadal wrote.