There is every chance that Britain’s hopes of making Saturday’s Hopman Cup final will have been dashed even before they take to the court for their final group meeting with Australia here on Friday, but Andy Murray will not be too concerned.
This week has been all about preparing for the Australian Open, which begins in 10 days’ time, and the world No 6 is feeling in a much better frame of mind than 12 months ago, when he went into the year’s opening Grand Slam event having just made his return following back surgery.
“I came in quite apprehensive last year,” Murray recalled after a vigorous two-hour practice session with his coach, Amélie Mauresmo. “It was quite a tough time for me. I had never come back from surgery before and I didn’t know how I was going to respond against the best players in the world over five sets. I actually played quite well there, but mentally the build-up to it was challenging. My preparation has been much better this year. My body feels better, so that is a good sign.”
When Murray completed his practice shirtless, the taping he has been wearing on his sore left shoulder was evident. However, he insisted: “It’s not so much an injury. When you start playing again after a while, things tend to hurt a little bit. It’s just a bit stiff and sore and a bit uncomfortable. I did quite a bit of travelling coming from Abu Dhabi over to here without too much time to get used to the conditions or to recover from the travel. Hopefully, in a few days it will feel fine.”
Murray reached the final of the Australian Open on both previous occasions when he prepared for it by playing at the Hopman Cup. He believes the latter tournament’s move from an indoor to an outdoor venue has made it an even better preparation for Melbourne. The round-robin format also guarantees that every player has three singles and three doubles matches, at a time of year when playing on court is crucial.
A number of leading men compete instead at the Qatar Open in Doha, where Rafael Nadal’s defeat in his opening match this week against Michael Berrer means that the Spaniard will go into the Australian Open with only one competitive singles match under his belt this year. Roger Federer nearly suffered the same fate in Brisbane on Thursday but recovered from a set and 3-1 down to beat John Millman 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
“Everyone prepares in different ways,” Murray said. “I just feel that when I have got to Australia earlier, it’s made a difference, getting used to this sort of heat. You don’t get that in Doha. I feel like I have played my best in Australia when I have got here early.”
Britain’s match against Australia – Heather Watson faces Casey Dellacqua and Murray plays Marinko Matosevic before the four return to the court for a mixed doubles – starts at 5.30pm local time (9.30am GMT). Whether it will decide who can qualify for the final from Group B will depend on the outcome of the earlier match between France and Poland, who both had chances of going through.
The United States, in the formidable shape of Serena Williams and John Isner, booked their place in the final by beating the Czech Republic 3-0 in Group A. With the Americans needing to win all three encounters to go through, Williams showed typical spirit when she beat Lucie Safarova after more than two and a half hours in the opening match.
Safarova served for victory at 6-5 in the deciding set before Williams recovered to win 6-3, 6-7, 7-6. John Isner beat Adam Pavlasek 7-6, 6-4 and the Americans won the mixed doubles 6-3, 6-3.Reuse content