A week ago, Andy Murray dragged his weary frame on to yet another aeroplane. He was tired and aching from his epic five-set win over Kei Nishikori in the Davis Cup but he was elated. Unbeaten in three matches in three days, he was the nation’s hero: the man who brought the Davis Cup back to Britain for the first time in 79 years had now rushed back from paternity leave to begin the defence of that historic title.
Fifteen hours later, jet-lagged and exhausted, he was in Indian Wells in the Californian desert to try to focus his mind on another tournament and another match. Unsurprisingly, it was not easy.
On Saturday, Murray opened his account at the BNP Paribas Open, beating Marcel Granollers 6-4, 7-6. It took 100 minutes, it was not particularly memorable but it was a win, nonetheless. From playing in front of a packed and patriotic house in Birmingham last weekend, he was now sweating and grafting in front of a lukewarm crowd.
“I am really happy I got through that one,” Murray said, “because I didn’t think the level was that great and it’s just not the same playing in Birmingham as it is here. It’s a different atmosphere, there’s obviously less pressure and I still want to do well, but it’s like there’s a bit of a come down after Birmingham and the way that match finished.
“You are on such a high and a few days later you’re playing in completely different conditions and you don’t feel that comfortable. You are not hitting the ball as well but it’s a match you’re expected to get through. It’s tough. It’s one of the biggest challenges of our sport. You cannot control the conditions every week.
“It’s easy to feel a little bit flat at the beginning and I did come out a little flat to start the match. You need to start firing yourself up more. It was the first best-of-three-sets match I have played this year and those matches can get away from you quite quickly if you start a bit sluggish. In quick conditions here, if you get down an early break, a set can be gone in 30 minutes and you are half way out of the tournament. So I needed to fire myself up and get some energy and emotion from somewhere.”
It is a problem Murray knows he will face many times this year. With the Olympics coming up in Rio in the summer, he is determined to give himself the best possible chance to defend his title. But at the same time, he wants to give his all for the Davis Cup campaign and still ensure that he is in prime condition for the remaining three grand slams of the year. Keeping himself sharp and prepared for every challenge will be a real juggling act.
“I do have goals for this year,” he said. “The slams, obviously, every year – I don’t think that’s ever going to change – they are my priority on the tour and then the Olympics. It comes round once every four years and I know how much that meant to me so I don’t want to mess that up.
“I don’t want to mess up my preparations for the Olympics and go in there and not feel good. There’s no reason to go into the Olympics and not feel great.
“That’s where I just have to be smart after the Davis Cup [after Wimbledon] with what I do. If that means getting to Rio a week earlier to get used to the conditions and practise on the courts then that’s what I’ll do. It’s important to get the scheduling right and I think I will.
“I think I’ll get it right because I’ve been thinking about it way in advance so there’s no reason not to get that right.”
In the meantime, he has Federico Delbonis to think about today. He has never played the world No 53 from Argentina but while the left-handed clay court specialist will pose his own problems for the Scot, Murray’s biggest task is to find a way to reignite the fire that got him to the Australian Open final in January and got him through last weekend.
“If you’re feeling great, it’s easy to just walk on the court and you feel fine,” he said. “But when you’re not feeling so well, you really need to make sure that you’re focusing on every single point, you’re concentrating on your footwork and all of the small things that make you play well. For me here, I need to work at it.”
He will work at it all right but the real graft will start later in the season when all his goals – the French Open, Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open – are squeezed into four fraught months. Suddenly trying to kick himself into action to face Delbonis today does not look quite so hard.