Tim Henman thinks Andy Murray could become a better player than ever after his back surgery but believes his successor as British No 1 may need time to hit peak form. With the Australian Open just 14 days away, Murray will play his first tournament since September here at this week’s Qatar ExxonMobil Open.
Murray had an operation on a long-standing lower-back problem three months ago and has been steadily rebuilding his fitness. After a training block in Miami, he played two exhibition matches in Abu Dhabi last week. Doha promises to be the biggest step yet in his rehabilitation.
“He’s got lots of challenges to overcome,” Henman said. “One of them is the surgery. Another one will be getting back into the rhythm of tournament play and match play. He’s done that throughout his whole career because he’s had many hurdles to get over, but this is a different one. It’s not always easy coming back from surgery – and back surgery is quite a major one.”
Although Murray should have no trouble in the first round against Mousa Zayed, a Qatari wild card ranked No 2,129 in the world, the tasks quickly get tougher. Murray could play Florian Mayer in the second round, Fernando Verdasco in the quarter-finals and David Ferrer, who practised with the Scot last night, in the semi-finals. Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych are seeded to meet in the other semi-final.
Murray usually plays well after a break and has won the title in the first week of the season four times in the last six years. He won here in 2008 and 2009, did not play in the first week in 2010 and 2011 and won in Brisbane in 2012 and 2013.
“After the training blocks I always expect him to play well because that does give you a great foundation,” Henman said. “However, I think there is a very large variable this time and that’s the surgery, so I would definitely give him a lot more slack. He’s looking at the next five years. If the results don’t happen in the first three or six months and there are a few niggles along the way, then that’s the reality of where he’s at.”
Henman added: “It would be unrealistic to suddenly think it’s going to be 100 per cent. You’re always going to have niggles. Hopefully, this will give him the opportunity to play a little more pain-free and practise a bit differently. As he’s said, it’s affected him on certain shots. I’m optimistic.”
Dan Evans, the British No 2, is also starting his 2014 campaign here. The 23-year-old is one win away from a place in the main draw after beating Jan Hernych 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the second round of qualifying. In today’s final round he faces Japan’s Taro Daniel.
Heather Watson is beginning her season in Brisbane, where she has beaten three players in qualifying – Mandy Minella, Chanelle Scheepers and Jarmila Gajdosova – to reach the main draw. The 21-year-old was due to play Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova in the first round early on Monday.