x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Murray aims to take the next step

A year ago Andy Murray was overjoyed to lift the Qatar ExxonMobil Trophy to mark his arrival as an up-and-coming player on the ATP tour.

Britain's Andy Murray returns the ball during his victory against Albert Montanes during the ATP Qatar tennis open in Doha. The Scotsman is targeting his first grand slam this year.
Britain's Andy Murray returns the ball during his victory against Albert Montanes during the ATP Qatar tennis open in Doha. The Scotsman is targeting his first grand slam this year.

A year ago Andy Murray was overjoyed to lift the Qatar ExxonMobil Trophy to mark his arrival as an up-and-coming player on the ATP tour who possessed genuine hopes of one day threatening the world dominance of Roger Federer and latterly Rafael Nadal. That day has come, judging by Murray's mood as he began the defence of his title last night. Tournaments like this one, prestigious enough to have attracted three of the world's top four, have become routine stop-offs for the Scotsman who is setting his sights on greater things.

"It's all about the grand slams for me at the moment," he said. "Everything now is simply preparation for those events. It would be nice to win here again, but I'm not bothered if I don't. "As long as I'm in the best possible shape for the Australian Open when I leave here I will be happy." "And it is nice to know at the start of the year that the level I'm playing at is indeed high I felt like that straight away in Abu Dhabi last weekend.

"My first match against [James Blake] was a good win. "I started off playing great and carried on from there. I just need to try to keep it up." Murray, who breezed through his Doha first round match against Albert Montanes, beating the 43rd-ranked Spaniard 6-2, 6-4, learned much from going on to defeat Federer and Nadal in Abu Dhabi last weekand believes the experience will prove invaluable as he seeks to win his first major prize.

"It's just a case of understanding how well you need to play to win against them," he said. "When you play them for the first time you don't really know what to expect and what you have to do to beat them. "Now that I have beaten them again I will have the right mindset for the next time I meet them. I expect I will be pretty calm from now on going into those big matches." The British No 1 is going to be physically stronger for the task ahead this year after putting on four kilograms of bulk during the close season. "The extra weight has been distributed around my whole body," he said, praising the fitness team he has assembled as part of his travelling entourage.whole body.

"It will make me feel better on court, I hope. "You just don't know until you play a long five-set match. And then you can see where the real difference is." Murray, 21, has also gained financial security at an early stage of what promises to be a long and outstanding career and he insists that prize money is not his main priority. "My game is more important to me than the money. Becoming a better player and winning a grand slam is what counts."

The defending champion was never in danger in Doha even though he struggled to close out both sets against a stubborn Montanes. After taking five games in a row in the opener, he toiled in an eighth game of five deuces before finally accepting his second set point. Similarly in the second set, he was pegged back from 4-0 to 4-3 before waking up to the task and accelerating to victory and a second round date with Germany's Philipp Petzscher, who was a 7-6, 6-3 winner over Jeremy Chardy of France.

wjohnson@thenational.ae