ANDY Murray accepts Rafael Nadal’s stunning comeback from injury could be both a blessing and a curse as he prepares to make his own grand slam return.
The British number one will play his first slam match since back surgery in September when he takes on Japan’s Go Soeda in the opening round of the Australian Open on Tuesday.
Nadal is making his own return in Melbourne having missed the year’s first grand slam 12 months ago as he continued his recovery from knee problems that kept him out for seven months.
The Spaniard is back as world number one after a stunning sequence of results that saw him win 10 tournaments in 2013, including the French and US Opens.
Nadal was not the same as before, he was better, dominating on hard courts as well as clay with a 26-match winning run on what had been considered his worst surface.
Murray has not missed a grand slam but was unable to play the final two months of last season after opting for surgery to cure a troublesome back problem.
He is still very much feeling his way back in and is unsure how he will fare over best-of-five-set matches.
Murray accepts Nadal’s success means expectations for his own comeback will have been raised, but the superb form of the Spaniard also offers hope that the road back to his best form may not be too long.
The Scot also cited their differing schedules, with Nadal playing himself back into form at smaller clay-court events before taking on his first big tournament at Indian Wells a month later.
Murray told Press Association Sport: “How Rafa recovered so well is pretty amazing but obviously coming back and going straight into a slam in your second tournament is different.
“Playing best-of-five-set matches is different, it takes time to build up that match practice.
“I have to be realistic but in some ways you can see that if you put the work in, you have the right attitude on the court, you can get back fairly quickly.”
Murray knows he must be patient, but for a perfectionist such as the Scot, that does not come easily.
In a exhibition match against Lleyton Hewitt on Friday, which he lost in two tie-break sets, Murray’s desire to find his best form again was evident.
He said: “It is a bit frustrating.
“I find it more frustrating when I have been playing and I’m not playing that well or moving that well. Certain days when things aren’t going as I would have liked, I can get quite frustrated.
“But I’m not over-thinking too much. I understand why things aren’t going as well but it can still be frustrating on the court.
“I still give myself a bit too much of a hard time when I’m practising but when the practice is done it’s not like I’m taking that home with me or going back to the room and going, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe I’m not hitting the ball that well’.
“I know why it’s happening and I just need to keep ploughing through it.”
On paper, Soeda represents a chance for Murray to ease himself back into slam play, with the 29-year-old Japanese ranked only 112th, down from a career high of 47 a year and a half ago.
The pair have never played each other before but Murray is confident he knows what to expect.
The 26-year-old said: “The Japanese players, a lot of them are fairly similar in the way that they play. They play from the baseline. They like to take the ball fairly early. They hit quite flat. Backhand’s maybe a bit better. They compete well.
“I’ll need to be ready. I haven’t played a lot of matches, so I’m not going to look past anyone.”
The weather is likely to be a complicating factor, with temperatures forecast to soar into the 40s for the remainder of the week.
The good news for Murray is the match has been scheduled not before 5pm local time on Hisense Arena.
Melbourne Park’s second court has a roof, which means the contest will definitely be finished.
Should the extreme heat policy be activated, the pair would finish the set they were playing before the roof would close, while play on uncovered courts would be suspended.