Two years ago, Andy Murray staggered away from the ATP World Tour Finals in London in total disbelief.
He had just been demolished by Roger Federer, pictured, a 56-minute pasting in which Murray was allowed to take just one game. What had happened to the – then – former Wimbledon champion? He had fought his way back from back surgery at the end of 2013, had won three tournaments that autumn and he had run himself to a standstill to qualify for the Tour Finals – and then he had been flattened.
Little did the faithful know: it was to be the making of Murray and it was the starting point for his push to the very top of his sport.
“That was a tough finish to the year,” Murray recalled.
“I played loads of events to try to get into the Tour Finals and then I thought I was starting to get back on track and then I got smoked at the end of the year by Roger.
“That was like, disaster: ‘what’s wrong with him? What’s going on?’ but I managed to turn it around after that.
“I learned a lot from that period. That year after my back surgery I did start to feel better physically towards the end of the year, but my game was nowhere near where it needed to be.
“That’s why that match with Roger was important because I had won a lot of matches and played some decent stuff at the end of the year but then when I had to play at that top level I wasn’t able to compete.
“That match was important because it made me in the off-season go away and realise I really need to work on my tennis. It’s not so much the physical side now, I need to work on my game and improve some stuff to get back to the top level.”
That winter training block was the launchpad for Murray’s rise to the top. Last year the focus was on the Davis Cup and he led Britain to victory.
This year, the focus was on consistency – and, as the new world No 1 and the champion of eight tournaments, he has reached that goal in stunning style.
Now there is London and this time he goes to the Tour Finals in the form of his life. This year is oh, so different.
“For the last couple of years the circumstances have been a bit tricky,” he said.
“Last year I was getting ready for the Davis Cup final and preparing on clay – it’s not the right way to prepare if you’re trying to win the Tour Finals against the best players. So this year maybe will be different to the last one.
“I’ve always gone into London trying to do well, and it’s never quite happened for me but I’ve had a couple of tough losses, Rafa in the semis once, and two years ago I was really trying to chase the points to get in there and I played probably too much to do that.
“By the time I got there I was a bit fried, but I look forward to it.
“I have had some good moments there, but it just hasn’t quite happened for me. Obviously the crowd helps. I do think playing in front of a home crowd helps.
“It makes a difference, so, hopefully, I’ll be able to perform a bit better this year.”