Andy Murray's form is such that only injury or illness look capable of beating him at the moment, but not even a back problem could stop the 21-year-old Scot continuing his winning start to the year at the Qatar Open in Doha yesterday. Twenty-four hours after beating Roger Federer for the third time in succession, he completed the successful defence of the first of his five titles from last year when he beat Andy Roddick 6-4 6-2 in a match that lasted only 70 minutes.
There may be three players ahead of Murray in the rankings but the world No 4 has already been installed as the bookmakers' favourite to win the Australian Open, which begins in eight days' time. Murray was the game's outstanding player in the second half of last season and has looked every bit as dominant at the start of the new campaign.
Having beaten James Blake, Federer and Rafael Nadal on his way to victory in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi last week, the British No 1 has remained unbeaten in his first competitive outing of the season, which is the only tournament he is playing before the calendar's first Grand Slam event. The year is less than a fortnight old but he has already won $433,000 (£284,000) in prize money and probably as much again in appearance fees. No wonder, then, that he has appointed David Beckham's management company to look after his commercial interests.
Murray has been troubled by a sore back for the past week and was even talking about withdrawing from the final, but you would never have guessed that he had a problem.
Roddick, who has now lost six of his eight matches against the Scot, forced only one break point, which he failed to take, while his opponent converted all three of his break opportunities. Taking your chances is usually crucial against a player with as big a serve as the 26-year-old American, though it was Murray who hit more aces (five compared to Roddick's three) and won more points in returning first serves.
Roddick was under pressure from the start and was broken to love in the fifth game. The world No 8 tried to mix up his game but won only five points on Murray's serve in the opening set.
It was more one-way traffic in the second set, although Roddick rallied very briefly by forcing a break point when Murray served for the match at 5-2. The Scot saved it with an ace and won the match two points later with a backhand winner.
"I think I played similar to the last two sets I played against Federer," Murray said afterwards. "I served well and I didn't allow Andy to break me. I also knew Andy can get confident on his serve, so I tried to stay ahead of him in the match."
In an ominous warning to future opponents, he added: "I am not close to my best tennis. I need to do what I did at Wimbledon and the US Open last year. But if I play my best tennis then I can beat the top players."
Roddick admitted he had been outplayed. "He's in top form right now," the American said. "I think he is capable of winning the big ones. He was hitting great balls."
This is the ninth title of Murray's career and his fourth in the past five months. In September he reached his first Grand Slam final at the US Open before losing to Federer and he will be aiming to go one better in Melbourne, where the surface is to his liking even though he has lost inthe first round of two of his three appearances Down Under.