Andy Murray ready to return to the hunger games

Andy Murray with mother Judy at the filming of Strictly Come Dancing. Picture: BBC/PA
Andy Murray with mother Judy at the filming of Strictly Come Dancing. Picture: BBC/PA
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A YEAR ago, Andy Murray was dutifully trudging between home and Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham, Surrey. Every day was spent on tedious rehab work following his back operation and, when he was not sweating on the treadmill, he was being worked on by his physio. And, all the while, his rivals were being lauded at the ATP World Tour Finals on the other side of town.

Murray was only away from the circuit for four months but life was moving on without him. The foundations were being laid for a dramatic new season as the top boys hired celebrity coaches, the chasing pack rethought their gameplans in an attempt to usurp the established stars and Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic squared up for a heavyweight contest with the end-of-year No.1 ranking being the ultimate prize. It took Murray six months of frustration as he worked to get back to full fitness at the start of this year and it has taken another six months of hard graft to get himself back into contention as major player. But now, as he faces Kei Nishikori today in his opening match at the Tour Finals, the showcase for the top eight men in the world, Murray is back in business.

The coming week could see him get back into the world’s top four (he is currently No.6) but this is just the hors d’oeuvres – the main course will be served in January when the new season starts and Murray can sit at the top table on equal terms. And, after hauling himself back up the rankings by winning tournament titles again, Murray’s appetite has a sharper edge than ever.

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“I’m not exactly where I would like to be,” Murray said, “I still want to get four or five per cent better. But, compared to where I was four or five months ago, I am much, much closer [to the others].

“When you’re away from the game for sort of three or four months you just fall behind a bit. They improve, they get better. They might become a bit quicker, they might be serving a little bit better. It does take time to catch up. I learnt that this year because I’d never really been away from the game for that long a period, since I’ve been close to the top of the game. Everyone just gets a bit better.”

Once his work is done at the O2, Murray will allow himself a short break before moving to his Miami home for his annual winter training block. Together with his coaches, Dani Vallverdu and Amelie Mauresmo, he will plot a path towards the sharp end of the four grand slam tournaments in 2015 – although, as yet, he is not sure quite what his coaches have in mind for him.

“I’d hope it’s nothing too drastic,” he said, looking a little concerned. “A lot of what I feel I’ve missed at certain times of the year has actually been patience. At the beginning of the year, when maybe you’re not match tight, you haven’t played enough matches, or you’re feeling a bit tired physically, it’s easy to rush points or finish points quickly. I need to just make sure I make more of the right decisions rather than making any major changes in my game. A lot of it can be tactical and mental mistakes you make on the court. I’m sure we’ll make some small tweaks but nothing major.

“I haven’t actually spoken about the stuff I would actually work on in December with Dani and Amelie but I will when I’m done with the tournament here, I’m sure we’ll sit down and sort of say: ‘Look, this is how much time we’ve got, these are the things we need to improve and this is how we’re going to go about it’. And hopefully, we’ll agree on most things – that always helps.

“That’s one of the positives about the off-season: although it’s pretty short, still you do have time to work on your game, to work on different aspects. That’s always fun, I always enjoy learning new things.”

In the last couple of months, Murray has relearned the art of winning titles (three of them in all) and, in the next seven days as he takes on the world’s elite in the Tour Finals, he is hoping to regain the knack of beating the world’s very best on the sport’s biggest stages. Murray is hungry again and he is planning for a feast in 2015.

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