Andy Murray insisted yesterday that the world No 1 ranking was "not something I think about on a daily basis", but as the Scot prepares for his first clay-court tournament of the year here at the Monte Carlo Masters he knows that the next eight weeks are likely to be vital if he is to replace Novak Djokovic at the summit.
By his own standards Murray had a moderate clay-court season last year, when he was troubled by a back injury, while Djokovic reached three finals. The upside for Murray is that the 2013 clay campaign gives him an outstanding chance of making up ground in the rankings, particularly as Djokovic has fitness issues.
The world No 1 hurt an ankle eight days ago while playing in the Davis Cup and although he has been practising here since Friday, he said it was by no means certain that he would be fit to play his opening match on Wednesday. He admitted he would not be making such strenuous efforts to compete if he did not live just down the road from the Monte Carlo Country Club.
Murray, who will meet the Dutchman Robin Haase or France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin in his opening match after a first-round bye, has a tough draw. Although the world No 2 is seeded to meet Djokovic in the final, in order to get there he might have to beat Stanislas Wawrinka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Rafael Nadal, who is seeking to win the title for the ninth year in a row.
Nevertheless, Murray goes into the clay-court season in much better shape physically than 12 months ago. A back problem, which had troubled him since the start of 2012 and forced him to withdraw from the Madrid Masters, led to his having eight pain-killing injections before the French Open, where he suffered severe back spasms.
"I've felt much better the last few days than I did coming into Monte Carlo last year," Murray said. "I think it's something that will always be with me. [I need to do] the right exercises, have the right treatment, the right amount of rest and not do anything silly or play other sports. I used to play a lot of football and golf. I've stopped all of that now and the back has been better."
Although Murray's results on clay last year were modest as he struggled with his back, his performances in 2011, when he reached the semi-finals here, in Rome and at Roland Garros, showed what he is capable of on the surface he finds the most challenging.
"It's the movement that's been the thing I've needed to improve most on the clay, and I feel like I'm moving better this year," Murray said. "I feel good."
As for the world rankings Murray insisted: "I'm not preparing this week to try to get to No 1, I'm preparing to try to win Monte Carlo. That's a big challenge for me."
Murray had a late night here on Saturday, but he was not out on the town. Instead he was following coverage of the men's doubles final at the US Clay-Court Championship in Houston, where his older brother Jamie won his first title for 18 months. Jamie and the Australian John Peers defeated Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, the world's No 1 doubles pair, 1-6, 7-6, 12-10.
"I tried to stay up," the reigning US Open champion said. "I went to bed at 2-2 in the second set. I just sent him a message in the second set saying: 'Whatever happens, it's been a great week. I'm thinking of you.' Then I woke up at five in the morning and saw that he had won. It was great.
"He struggled for a little while and to win a match like that against probably the best doubles team ever is a huge win for him."