x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Andy Murray comeback warms up in Abu Dhabi with victory over Wawrinka

Scotsman ranked No 4 in the world makes quick turnaround from Mubadala World Tennis Campionship first-day defeat to notch 6-3, 6-4 victory,

Andy Murray. Sammy Dallal / The National
Andy Murray. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Andy Murray’s cram session has become the stuff of serious business.

So much ground to make up, so little time.

Feelling both rusty and behind schedule because of back surgery that led to a three-month competitive lay-off, and with the season’s first grand slam beginning January 13, Murray showed up three hours before his match yesterday at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

The Scottish star spent an hour at Zayed Sports City’s main court, banging away and working up a good lather, before spending another 30 minutes in the autograph booth, shaking hands, posing for photos and getting writer’s cramp signing autographs for kids. After his match, he adjourned to a perimeter course to do some movement drills.

After feeling a step slower in the latter stages of his loss in Thursday’s opening match, there was no visible hangover when Murray returned 16 hours later to record a victory over world No 8 Stanislas Wawrinka in the fifth-place game.

All week, the Murray mantra has been that his Abu Dhabi season opener was more about rehab than results. But finishing with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over a player ranked among the best on the planet was a welcome development.

“Today was a bit better than yesterday,” he said, “and that’s all I can do.”

Knowing he needs to ramp up his game in a hurry, the reigning Wimbledon champion is playing next week in Doha, where he has two career victories. Just to ensure he gets in as much live action as possible before the Australian Open begins in just over two weeks, Murray also signed up to play in doubles.

For Murray, that his back was able to hold up despite two different sets of weather conditions was also a plus. It was decidedly cool on Thursday night, but he played at high noon yesterday, when the weather on sunny centre court was about 25°C.

Because he lost his opener to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Murray was forced to play twice against top-10 competition in less than 24 hours. That is plenty of live fire for a player who insists that tournament conditions cannot be replicated in practice.

“I didn’t feel too bad when I got up, which was quite good, because we had a pretty quick turnaround,” he said. “When you’re stiff, the heat makes a big difference.”

While it is often difficult to gauge Murray’s physical state by watching him on the court, since he often walks around as though he has blisters on both feet, he proclaimed his back to be on the road to full health. It needs to be, given his plans.

Murray knows it could get even busier next week in Doha, where he could play twice in a day, given the doubles commitment. When it was noted that it was a distinct possibility, he laughed and said, “Hopefully.”

He welcomes the workload.

“In a couple of weeks, I need to be able to play five sets,” he said. “It’s probably going to be hard, and my body will be stiff.

“The only way to get conditioned to play matches is to play matches, unfortunately.”