The knighthood may be taking a while to adjust to but Sir Andy Murray has slipped into the role of world No 1 as easily as he would slip into a pair of comfy slippers (even if the thought of the nation’s most popular sportsman wearing carpet slippers is a little alarming).
With the start of the Australian Open just 48 hours away, the Scot is in relaxed mood. The draw has been reasonably kind to him, his preparations are going well and apart from a bit of rain yesterday, all is well in his world. Even the memories of losing in five Melbourne finals over the past seven years cannot ruin his mood – Murray, knight of the realm and king of the rankings, is ready to get to work.
“It’s a great event,” Murray said of the season’s first grand slam. “All the players love coming back here. I’ve been close a bunch of times here but I still love it. I don’t dislike the event just because I’ve lost in the final five times.
“I think I’ve prepared well. I’ve been here for four or five days now and have been getting used to the conditions pretty good. I got a good break at the end of last year. I needed it. Then I trained really, really hard in the off-season with my team to make some improvements to things and I feel ready. I feel good about this year.”
Murray is not one to look too far ahead in the draw and no matter whether the pundits regard his route through the rounds as being favourable or not, he is always careful never to get ahead of himself.
“I’ve had tough draws in the past at grand slams”, Murray said before the first name was pulled from the hat yesterday. “Obviously this one potentially could be really hard. But they don’t always work out that way. Draws can open up.
“The year I won Wimbledon was a perfect example. I had Roger and Rafa potentially in the quarter-finals, and when they both lost I was told, ‘this is his only chance to win Wimbledon, this is his best chance’. I went from having no chance at the beginning of the week to having my best chance ever.
“You just have to play each match as it comes. If you get to the fourth round, you are pretty much into a rhythm and well into the tournament anyway, so it doesn’t make much difference if you play someone in the fourth round or the quarter-finals really.”
As it turned out, the top seed was drawn to meet Illya Marchenko, the world No 93 in the opening round with Sam Querrey being his first seeded opponent in the third round. After that he will face either John Isner or Lucas Pouille and then, maybe, Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.
Federer, still in the early stages of his comeback from a six-month break to let his injured knee heal, would have to get past Tomas Berdych in the third round and Kei Nishikori in the fourth to make that date with Murray but the prospect of such a quarter-final is mouthwatering.
With Stan Wawrinka, the man Murray outwitted at the French Open and crushed at the ATP Finals last year, seeded to meet the Scot in the semi-finals, the draw has worked out well for the top seed.
But when it comes to the crunch, it is Novak Djokovic who poses the biggest threat to Murray’s ambitions. He has been doing just that throughout the world No 1’s career. Yet even though Murray lost the Doha final to the Serb just last weekend, there is a new confidence about the Scot this year.
“Here – obviously – I’ve never beaten him,” Murray said of his old foe. “I’ve lost to him four or five times. A couple of them were tough matches, a couple of them were very easy for him so I need to try turn that around here. There’s a good chance that if I want to win the event I’ll have to play against him. He’s played unbelievably here, I think he’s won six times, which is an incredible record. Hopefully, I can get by him this year but he’s definitely my biggest rival and someone I’ve been competing against for 18 years now.
“But I do think the last few months of last year can help me here. I’d never had that consistency before and never had those results before. It gave me a bunch of confidence and I think other players look at that as well and see that you’re playing well and I feel immensely strong physically. So I’m in a good place.
“The challenge when you’re at the top is to try to stay there and a lot of people say that it’s harder. I’ve prepared for that, I need to keep that going, especially at the beginning of this year, so I’ll give it a good shot.”