Murray begins dogged hunt for glory

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After warming up with walkies the world No 4 is back to full fitness and set for the French Open, kicking off a summer that could define his career

Paris

Maggie and Rusty have left and it is time to get down to business. Andy Murray and his girlfriend, Kim Sears, brought their pet dogs here last week, but as the French Open begins today and the 25-year-old Scot prepares for the most important summer of his career, the two border terriers have been sent home.

"We've never had the dogs anywhere before, so it was nice to have them here for a few days," Murray said. "They went down the Champs-Elysées quite a few times, which was a little bit emotional. There were a lot of people and a lot of smaller dogs as well. They're not the friendliest when they're on the leads, so it's probably a good thing they're going home."

According to Boris Becker, Murray should be at home too, nursing the sore back which has troubled him in recent months and concentrating on his preparations for the grass-court season. Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach, followed that approach later in his career, missing Roland Garros as he chased the Wimbledon title that always eluded him.

Murray, however, is having none of it. "My back's going to be fine for the tournament – that's not a problem," he said. "I've tested the back out. I played the best of five sets a few days ago. I played a few sets yesterday, practised twice yesterday. I've been playing enough. I've taken two days off since I started playing again after my back injury. I've been practising most days, because that's what I've needed to do to get ready for the tournament.

"Everybody has problems. I'm not the only one, but sometimes they come at points of the year where it seems like you miss a tournament, you have one bad tournament afterwards and then they say, 'Oh, he has back problems.' Or suddenly they're threatening my career. But it's not. It's just a problem I've got to deal with, and at the end of the year I'll get time to rest and recover and let it get better."

Murray added: "If I didn't believe I could win the French, there would be no point in my being here. The reason Ivan did it was because he'd won all of the other Slams and he wanted to try to win all four. That was the reason he skipped the French Open. If I was at the end of my career and I only had Wimbledon left to win – which would be a nice position to be in – I'd consider it. But right now there is no reason for me not to play the French Open."

Twelve months ago Murray enjoyed his best run at Roland Garros, reaching the semi-finals, but he will have his work cut out to match that performance.

The first two rounds should not be too troublesome, but thereafter his route is full of potential pitfalls. Bernard Tomic, one of the game's brightest young talents, the unorthodox and unpredictable Alexandr Dolgopolov and David Ferrer, a clay-court master, could all lie in wait before the ultimate challenge, a semi-final against Rafael Nadal.

The king of clay is chasing a remarkable seventh title in eight years in Paris. In his 46 matches at Roland Garros, Nadal has lost only once – to Robin Soderling in the fourth round three years ago, when Nadal's knees were so battered that he subsequently missed Wimbledon and had to take two months off.

Murray has the utmost respect for the Spaniard and his record in Paris. "I think the fact that he started at such a young age is what's most impressive," the Scot said. "He won it the first time when he'd just turned 19. That, to me, is what's been most impressive about it. The run is obviously still going as well, so I'm sure he'll have more great runs here. I'm sure he'll win the event a few more times before he finishes."

In the space of 14 weeks Murray is set to play in three Grand Slam tournaments (the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open), the Olympic Games, two Masters Series hard-court events in North America and the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club. Few players take their work more seriously than the world No 4, yet he appreciates the importance of spending some time away from tennis, in the evenings at least.

"I try not to talk too much about it, especially for these next few months, when I think it's important to switch off and have other things you're interested in as well," he said.

"Otherwise you're going to get a bit stale in the head. I think if you ask all of the players they have other interests as well. So I try not to think about it too much. Because these next two weeks, for example, I'll be thinking about it most days. Often you can go to the courts at nine in the morning and you're not leaving until seven, eight at night."

It helps that his long-term girlfriend is the daughter of Nigel Sears, who is currently the coach of Ana Ivanovic, though Murray said there are "a lot of people that do come from tennis backgrounds that don't understand".

He added: "It takes a bit of time, but obviously we've been together the best part of seven years now, so if she didn't understand it, then that probably wouldn't still be working."

Does he ever consult Kim's father about his own game?

"I normally speak to him more about his players or British players," Murray said. "I don't ask many people's opinion on my game because I get given that opinion by people every single day."

Murray's possible route to the final

First round

Tito Tatsuma (Japan, aged 24, world No 69) At career high in rankings.

Second round

Jarkko Nieminen (Finland, 30, No 47) Veteran has lost all three of his matches against Murray.

Third round

Bernard Tomic (Australia, 19, No 28) Highest-ranked teenager in senior game, but not at his best on clay.

Fourth round

Alexandr Dolgopolov (Ukraine, 23, No 19) Clay is his favourite surface.

Quarter-finals

David Ferrer (Spain, 30, No 6) One of the best clay-court players. Has beaten Murray in all three meetings on clay.

Semi-finals

Rafael Nadal (Spain, 25, No 2) The king of clay is going for his seventh French Open title in eight years. Unbeaten in four matches against Murray on clay.

Final

Novak Djokovic (Serbia, 25, No 1) Could become first man for 43 years to hold all four Grand Slam titles. However, has never reached the final at Roland Garros.

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