FOR once, the Scottish climate is working in Andy Murray’s favour. The man who left Dunblane as a teenager and headed for Spain in search of knowledge, decent practice partners and facilities and a little sunshine, is back in his element at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Until he left home, Murray had been forced to learn his craft on the indoor courts of Scotland, sub-zero temperatures and endless drizzle not being conducive to the production of world class tennis players.
But that upbringing left him with a love of the indoor conditions and an understanding of how to win under the lights and in the cavernous arenas of the professional tour – his tally of 24 career titles includes nine indoor trophies.
Today, though, he faces one of his toughest tests: he plays Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, in the second of his group matches at the O2 Arena. As they begin the match, Djokovic heads Group A by dint of winning his opening round in straight sets. By dropping a set to Tomas Berdych, Murray is lying in second place – and, while qualifying for the semi-finals is all important, the final group standings make a huge difference. With Roger Federer the favourite to win Group B, the runner-up from Murray’s group will probably have to play the mighty Swiss on Sunday to reach the final.
No matter, Murray is settling into his surroundings quickly. Apart from an all-to-brief stay at the BNP Paribas Masters in Bercy last week – he lost in the third round – the Scot had not played an indoor event all year until he reached the Tour Finals. Now, after one match and a few days’ practice in London, he is getting a feeling for the court surface and the conditions. And he likes it.
“I grew up playing indoors so that’s why I like it,” he said. “But this year, counting proper indoor matches, not counting matches at Wimbledon, I hadn’t played an indoor match until Paris last week. Normally I have played quite a lot indoors so it has taken me a little while to adjust to that. I normally just enjoy the surface. I like the speed of the courts and was able to find ways of getting some returns back and making it tough for my opponent. I was winning a lot of points on my first serve which helps. I do like playing indoors but I just haven’t played much this year.”
Murray is even enjoying the stifling heat in the huge auditorium. Usually, the O2 venue – which is, basically, no more than a huge tent – is bitterly cold but this year, the organisers have ramped up the heating. And the sight of 17,000 people unpeeling layer after layer of clothing as the first set unfolds is not for those of a nervous disposition. But Murray loves it.
“It was warm but that is the way it should be,” he said. “It should be that heat in there. There are so many people in there and it makes a difference to how the court plays as well. It was much easier to move.”
The last time Murray met Djokovic in London, they were playing for a place in the Olympic final. Murray won that day in two tight sets and used that as a launch pad to beat Federer and take the gold medal. A little over a month later, Murray beat the Serb again to win the US Open.