No let-up for Andy Murray as he faces Stan Wawrinka test

Andy Murray takes a drinks break during his epic win over Kei Nishikori. Today he faces Stan Wawrinka. Picture: Getty Images
Andy Murray takes a drinks break during his epic win over Kei Nishikori. Today he faces Stan Wawrinka. Picture: Getty Images
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It is not all champagne and roses being the best player in the world.

Andy Murray may have earned more than $10 million in prize money this year but he has already played 84 matches, won 75 of them, has not lost to anyone in a run of 21 matches and on Wednesday, he played – and won, obviously – the longest three-set match ever at the ATP World Tour Finals. He’s barely had time to draw breath since June.

Today he faces Stan Wawrinka, the Swiss powerhouse who has, annoyingly for Murray fans, found his form at just the right moment at London’s O2 Arena. After a lacklustre display to lose to Kei Nishikori in his opening match, he was back to his muscular, forceful self to beat Marin Cilic on Wednesday night.

Thanks to the complicated mathematics of the round robin format, the Scot is still not guaranteed of his place in the semi-finals despite being the only unbeaten player in his group. But if he just takes a set from Wawrinka this afternoon, he will be through. That, though, is a dangerous way to approach any match: Murray will just want to win and get the job done.

The world No 1 leads their career rivalry with nine wins to seven, and the last time they played he won with a brilliantly conceived and executed game plan in the semi-finals of the French Open. This showdown, however, will be over the best of three sets, which allows less margin for error, and that is tricky at this time of year when everyone is tired and longing for the off-season to start.

“Stan is always dangerous,” Murray said. “Once he gets through the first couple of rounds of tournaments, his record when he gets deep in tournaments is really good. Sometimes early in tournaments it takes him a while to find his range but once he does he isn’t easy to stop. I expect him to play better than maybe he did in his first match and obviously we will see what happens.”

Murray knows that he will be a bit stiff and sore after his three hour, 20 minute epic against Nishikori two days ago but his body has been tempered in far more difficult battles. Sure enough, he is looking forward to some time off next week and in the run-up to Christmas but this gruelling, if spectacular, season is as nothing compared to what he has been through before.

“The toughest year for me was the one where I had my back surgery [in 2013],” he said. “Up until then, I found that really tough, really tiring. I found it stressful. Although I was having really good success on the court I was just in pain all the time.

“The thing is, with my back before, I could play with it, it was just really, really sore. After 18 months of being in pain I just didn’t want to do that any more because it was getting more and more tiring.

“Now, while my back is occasionally sore and a little bit stiff, it isn’t like it was before. I trust my body a lot. I put a lot of work into it and because I play so many matches your body is just conditioned to do that now. Obviously when I take a break at the end of the year I will need to build that back up again. Right now, when I’m playing matches, it doesn’t feel too bad.”

Even when his work is done in London, he will not have much time to himself. After a couple of weeks of family time, he will head to Florida for winter training, come home for a few days at Christmas and then head back on the road for the Doha tournament at the start of next year.

“I will definitely need to take a break at the end of the season,” he said. “My dad is getting married two weeks after we finish here so he has got the stag do next weekend. It is up in Scotland so I have got that to look forward to.”

But first there is Wawrinka to beat today and Novak Djokovic to keep at arm’s length as the two best players in the world vie for the year-end top ranking.

And if Murray keeps on winning, that rare glass of bubbly with his dad next weekend will taste all the sweeter.