FOR a man who has broken every rule in the book – preparing for the hard -court ATP World Tour Finals by practising on clay and playing one of the biggest hard- court events in the calendar just days before the clay-court
Davis Cup final – Andy Murray was looking in fine form.
The world No 2 eased himself into the round-robin stage of the Tour Finals with a fairly straight forward 6-4, 6-4 win over David Ferrer yesterday afternoon. There were no signs of tiredness or stiffness from all the clay- court training he had been doing last week and not much by way of loss of form as he got his eye in again on the faster, hard- court surface.
If I didn’t play here, I would have gone three weeks or something without playing a match before the Davis Cup finalAndy Murray
Just a couple of days ago, Murray had warned that he needed to be realistic about his chances, particularly at the start of the end-of-season showcase event but, after 90 minutes of chasing around after everything Ferrer could throw at him, he was a happy man. The indefatigable Spaniard did not have anything with which to hurt Murray and two decent sets had allowed the eventual winner time to hone his shots and work on his timing.
“It was a tough match,” Murray said. “A lot of rallies. He obviously fought all the way through to the end as always. Made it extremely difficult for me. He didn’t serve as well as he can, which helped me. I played a bit more solid at the end of both sets, which got me the win. In the first couple of games my timing was a little bit off, but I got it back pretty quickly, which was pleasing. If you’re looking for a little bit of rhythm, he’s also a guy who makes you hit a lot of balls. The rallies are often quite long, so you can get into a rhythm against him. So that was good.
“My returns were a little bit off today, especially on the second serve. He obviously served a bunch of double-faults, which helped. But I could have returned a bit better. Obviously the ball’s coming through a little bit quicker and slightly lower than on the clay, and that was the one thing I think I could have done better today.”
The more Murray plays at London’s 02 Arena, the better his returns will become and, with the world’s top eight players standing between him and the trophy, he needs to be at his best to stand a chance of success.
But, from the moment he walked away from the US Open, beaten in the fourth round in September, his schedule has been built around these two weeks of the season. The change in format between the Tour Finals and the Davis Cup – best-of-three sets here, best-of-five sets against Belgium next week – and the difference in the surfaces was always going to a hard juggling act to manage, but Murray has done everything he can to be ready for the Davis Cup final. And playing well at the 02 Arena is part of that plan.
“If I didn’t play here, I would have gone three weeks or something without playing a match before the Davis Cup Final,” Murray explained. “Obviously it’s a different surface here, but playing matches against the best players in the world is also fantastic preparation.
“I’ve totally changed my schedule and the way I’ve trained over the last two months, since our last Davis Cup -tie, to make sure I am fresh for this part of the season, which hasn’t always been the case. Last year I came in [to London] probably not feeling my best after playing six weeks in a row.
“I’ve only played two tournaments in the last six or seven weeks, seven or eight weeks really. I feel good just now. Hopefully I can perform well here and in Belgium. I believe that I’ve
given myself the best chance to do that.”
Whether or not Aljaz Bedene, Britain’s No.2, will be allowed to join Murray in Belgium, the Scot and the rest of the Davis Cup team will learn today.
Bedene’s appeal hearing against the ITF’s ban on the Slovenian-born Briton playing for his adopted country was being heard yesterday.
He had applied for British citizenship before the ITF’s new rules came into play at the start of this year and he has been caught in a procedural loop ever since. Murray was clear in his backing for the new Brit: he wants the No.2 in Britain’s Davis cup team.
“He did that [his application] in October or November [last year],” Murray said. “He got his passport in April or May but the rules changed on January 1. He had applied before they changed the rules. He wasn’t to know they would change the rules. Whether it is this tie or the next one, I definitely think he should be allowed to play. He has just as much right as anyone to play for Great Britain. I wish him well.”
Murray’s winning start yesterday edged him one step closer to securing the end-of-season No 2 world ranking – a first for the Scot – and one more win this week will get the job done. It is not a career-changing achievement, but it is one that will help him at the beginning of next year, ensuring that he will be kept away from the all-conquering Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, until the final of any event the two men enter.
“It would be obviously nice to finish No 2,” he said, “because I haven’t done it before, but it’s not a goal that I’d set for myself at the beginning of this year or throughout the whole year, really. But, obviously for the Australian Open, being seeded No2 is slightly better than being seeded No 3 or No 4 – that’s the main benefit og it rather than something that I’ll be delighted to finish No 2. That’s not what my aim was at the beginning of the year.”