Put Andy Murray into a competitive situation and you can guarantee that he will fight to the finish. Playing a first-round doubles match here at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open on the opening day of the new season, Murray and Nenad Zimonjic went a set and a break down to Germany's Daniel Brands and Florian Mayer before the world No 4 launched a spirited recovery with his bold returns and volleys. The Scot and the Serb won 3-6, 7-6, 10-8, to the delight of a packed crowd on the second show court.
Tomorrow afternoon Murray will switch to centre court when he launches his singles campaign against the Qatari wild card Mousa Zayed. It will be the Wimbledon champion's first competitive singles match since he underwent back surgery at the end of September.
Murray is taking nothing for granted, but it is clear that he has derived encouragement from the first three months of his rehabilitation programme.
"So far the results have been good," a relaxed Murray said as he sat back in a chair in the VIP area at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex.
"I haven't lost any strength. I was training two weeks after the surgery. I was on the bike. It was quite a slow process, but everything has gone well. I don't feel like I've lost speed or strength. But I'll have a better idea when I start playing matches against the best players in the world. It's fine doing all this stuff in the gym and in practice, but until I start doing it in the matches that's where I'll get the confidence from."
Murray played two matches at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi last week and will be hoping for a good run here before heading to the Australian Open, which begins in 13 days' time.
"I pulled up well after the matches [last week] and that's what you're assessing just now," he said. "I practised with David Ferrer yesterday for a good hour and a half. We played a lot of games and sets and I woke up this morning feeling good.
"Obviously, I need to play matches. It's fine to feel good after one or two matches, but it's a long season. It's important my back holds up to the consistent pounding that your body takes playing matches week in and week out, but it's been good so far."
Murray said he had felt positively about his recovery ever since deciding to have the operation this summer. He had been suffering with back trouble for more than 18 months.
"When it's something that you've been dealing with for a very long time and you're the one that makes the decision to have the surgery and get it fixed, it's a lot easier to deal with," he said.
"I made that decision. I didn't want to deal with it any more. It had been causing me pain for a long time. So I was fine. I was really looking forward to having it done. I just wanted to have it done and start the process of getting back on the court."
He added: "There were a lot of things that were a problem with my back, but what exactly the one thing that it was I may not necessarily know. I'm just hoping that the procedure that I had done works. I was getting a lot of pain in my lower back, down my leg and into my foot. They were the symptoms, but they could have been caused by quite a few different things."
Murray will be pleased to be first on court at 2.30pm this afternoon – not so much because it gives him the chance to celebrate Hogmanay, but because he will avoid the chill of the evenings here at this time of the year.
"On the first day we got here it was very cold and that is not really what I want for my back just now, but I'm going to have to get used to it at some stage," he said. "All the training I did in Miami was in extreme heat and humidity, but I need to adjust to Melbourne very quickly from here."
Having won the title in Brisbane in the first week of the last two seasons, Murray said he had chosen to play in Abu Dhabi and Doha this time because he had struggled 12 months ago with the sudden change to the hot conditions in Australia. He had been keen to play in Abu Dhabi, where he was guaranteed two matches, and did not want to make a 14-hour trip to Brisbane and then have to play a match within a day or two of arriving.
Murray is one of two Britons in the main draw here after Dan Evans won his third qualifying match in succession. The 23-year-old from Birmingham, who became British No 2 in September, beat Japan's Taro Daniel 6-2, 6-2 and now meets Latvia's Ernests Gulbis, the world No 24.
Watson's brisbane exit
The British No 3 Heather Watson suffered a straight-sets defeat to ninth seed Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the Brisbane International.
The 21-year-old, who has fallen to 121 in the world after suffering from glandular fever, had battled through qualifying to reach the main draw at the hard-court event, but was no match for the world No 23 from Slovakia who prevailed 6-4, 6-3.
Cibulkova will play Japan's Kimiko Date-Krumm in the second round.