Andy Murray is aiming to make his first Davis Cup appearance for more than 18 months when Britain resume their attempt to regain a place in the elite World Group next year. Murray, who left here yesterday for this week's Shanghai Masters following his defeat by Milos Raonic in the semi-finals of the Japan Open, missed both of Britain's encounters this year but hopes to play in the home tie against Russia next April.
Like all the other top players, Murray has sometimes been unavailable to play in the Davis Cup because the dates have not fitted in with his own schedule. However, the 25-year-old Scot has already talked to Leon Smith, Britain's captain, about playing in the next tie, which falls at a reasonably convenient time between the Miami Masters and the start of the European clay-court season.
"As with all of the Davis Cup matches, I've always said that I would like to play when it's do-able," Murray said. "I spoke to Leon four days before I came over here. We had a pretty long discussion. We spoke about a number of different things with regards to the tie. We're going to chat again early next year to make a final decision on it. But it will be an exciting match, probably one of the biggest Davis Cup ties that I will have been involved in. Russia are a top tennis team, so it would be good to play in it."
For the moment Murray will be focusing on the Shanghai Masters, for which he is feeling in good shape after a useful week here in his first tournament since winning the US Open last month. The world No 3's run ended in a hard-fought defeat to Raonic, who won 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 after recovering from 4-1 down in the deciding set and saving two match points.
Murray is aiming to win Shanghai for the third year in succession but admitted that he struggled to adjust to the conditions in China 12 months ago. "The conditions there are very different to here," he said. "The court here is quicker but the balls are extremely heavy and hard, so it feels like you can really rip the ball and it doesn't fly on you; whereas the balls that they use in Shanghai are very light and the court is very gritty, very slow."
After a first-round bye Murray will play Bernard Tomic or Florian Mayer. Thereafter he is seeded to face Gilles Simon and John Isner before a semi-final meeting with Roger Federer, whom he has beaten in both their previous meetings in Shanghai. The top seeds in the other half of the draw are Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych. Djokovic beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6, 6-2 in yesterday's final of the China Open in Beijing.
Federer admitted that a death threat made against him on a website had been "a little bit of a distraction" in his preparations for Shanghai, but insisted that it had nothing to do with the fact that his wife and children have not travelled with him to China. He said he had been made aware of the threat 10 days ago and was disappointed that it had been made public at the end of last week.
"It was something just very small on a website, nothing clear and concrete," Federer said. "You have to be aware of what's happening around you but that is the case anyway anywhere I go today."
Raonic would have been on the brink of the world's top 10 if he had claimed the title here, but it was Kei Nishikori who won yesterday's final 7-6, 3-6, 6-0 to become the first home player ever to win the Japan Open, which is the longest running ATP tournament in Asia. It was first held in 1972.
Having dropped his serve only once – to Murray – in his previous matches in the tournament, Raonic was broken four times by Nishikori. "Kei is so quick and he was reading my serves well, which doesn't usually happen," Raonic said afterwards.
An attacking and creative player, 22-year-old Nishikori has become one of the most exciting young talents on the tour. The biggest win of his life is likely to see him climb two places to a career-high position of No 15 in today's updated world rankings list.
Nishikori, who has been based at Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida since he was 14, first broke through in 2008, when he won a tournament at Delray Beach, but his career was derailed by a serious elbow injury which required surgery. At one stage he feared whether he would ever play again, but he has steadily worked his way back up the world rankings, reaching the top 50 last April and the top 20 at the start of this year.
"It's absolutely unbelievable to win in Japan," Nishikori said. "I'd never played well in Japan, but after beating Tomas Berdych I felt I'd broken that wall down. My target now is to reach the top 10."