Andy Murray wrapped up his public preparations for next week’s Australian Open by losing an exhibition match to Lleyton Hewitt here in Melbourne yesterday, but is in a good frame of mind.
The back surgery he underwent in September has freed him from the pain which had troubled him for more than 18 months and even if he is short of match practice, Murray is confident that he can quickly rediscover his form.
“My back feels way, way better than it did before the surgery,” the Scot said after his 7-6, 7-6 defeat by Hewitt at Kooyong. “That is what is very pleasing for me just now. The rest of the body hurts a little bit because I haven’t played.
“It is a little bit frustrating because the back feels better, but when you haven’t played matches for four months, a couple of other things hurt and other things stiffen up. However, my back so far has felt very good. It feels much better than it did in Doha. I stiffened up a bit after the first couple of sets there – it was cold – but the last few days in practice my back has felt much better than it did even a couple of weeks ago.”
He added: “In practice I’ve played well this week. I’ve played some good sets against [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga, Hewitt, [Tomas] Berdych and [Nikolay] Davydenko. I’m going to play Juan Monaco tomorrow and Kei Nishikori on Sunday. I’m playing with good players and I am absolutely fine in practice. I’ve held my own and I’ve played well. I’m not as far away as I maybe thought I was a couple of weeks ago.”
Yesterday’s draw was kind to Murray. In the first round he faces the 29-year-old Japanese Go Soeda, the world No 112. The winner faces a qualifier in the second round, while Feliciano Lopez and John Isner are seeded to meet Murray in the third and fourth rounds respectively. Thereafter he could play Roger Federer in the quarter-finals, Rafael Nadal in the semis and Novak Djokovic in the final.
After a relatively cool week the temperature here moved into the thirties yesterday and is set to climb 10 degrees next week. “It will be hot when I play on Tuesday and I need to get in the hours in those conditions,” Murray said. “Playing matches in these conditions is tough. Just being back and playing in front of a lot of people when you haven’t done it for three months is different to playing on a court when there’s no one there.”
Djokovic, with no other members of the “Fab Four” in his section, looks to have been given the easiest draw and Federer the toughest. Radek Stepanek, Fernando Verdasco and Tsonga are all possible opponents for the Swiss before the quarter-finals. Nadal has the most challenging first round, against the 21-year-old Australian Bernard Tomic.
The women’s world No 1, Serena Williams, has a similar task, having been drawn against 17-year-old Ashleigh Barty, one of the host nation’s brightest prospects. Victoria Azarenka, winner here for the last two years, and Maria Sharapova are top seeds in the other half of the draw.
Laura Robson was handed a tough draw in the first round against Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens, who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals last year. Heather Watson was hoping to join the British No 1 in the main draw via the qualifying tournament.
Having beaten France’s Stéphanie Foretz Gacon, who retired with a shoulder injury after losing the first eight games, Watson met the American Irina Falconi in the final round of qualifying early today. Johanna Konta lost 6-1, 6-2 to Ukraine’s Olga Savchuk in the second round.