Andy Murray was probably feeling the cold more than most as the traditional opening to the European clay-court season got off to a chilly start at the Monte Carlo Masters yesterday. The 24-year-old Scot was sporting a close-cropped haircut, having decided to do the job himself last week.
"I had to cut my hair and that's what happened," Murray said in a matter-of-fact voice. "It was my fitness trainer's razor, or whatever you call it, so I didn't quite know how short it was going to be." Asked if the resulting crew-cut had come as a shock, he replied: "I don't really care. That stuff doesn't really bother me that much, to be honest. I'm sure for some it was a bit of a shock, but I wasn't that fazed about it."
If tonsorial fashion is not something that stirs Murray's blood, there are other matters that do. In the last year the world No 4 has become an important voice in a campaign for changes to prize money in tennis and he welcomed new arrangements announced last week for this year's French Open.
Prize money overall at Roland Garros will increase by seven per cent. The singles champions will win €1.25m (about £1,032,000), but the most significant change is the 20 per cent increase in the fees for first-round losers to €18,000 (about £14,900).
Murray is among those who believe that players beneath the top level should be better rewarded. "Tennis can often be, for some, a five-year or six-year career," he said. "It's good there's something starting to get done about it because it's starting to become quite serious. I'm glad it's happened and it's good progress.
"Hopefully next year, for 2013, the prize money will go up for every round, but I just think for now it was a good start. I think people were talking about striking or boycotting. A lot of it came from guys that were ranked between 20 and 100. They were the ones that were unhappy with the way the prize money was distributed. This is a good thing for now."
Wimbledon is expected to announce an increase in prize money next week and Murray said he would be surprised if the All England Club did not follow the French example.
"I think some of the Slams want to be the biggest Slam, the biggest tournament on the tennis calendar," he said. "I think it would be quite hard to see one tournament doing it, increasing their prize money significantly, and the other ones not wanting to follow."
Both the champions and the first-round losers in Monte Carlo will earn less than half what will be on offer in Paris, but what matters for most players is the chance to find their feet on clay. Many, including Murray and Novak Djokovic, have not played on clay since last year's French Open.
"It's not a surface that I grew up playing on, so it takes me a little while before I start feeling comfortable on it," said Murray, "whereas I'm sure someone like Rafa [Nadal] steps on a clay court and feels very good after a few days."
Although Monte Carlo is the only Masters Series tournament which is not mandatory for players, seven of the top 10 are here. The most notable absentee is Roger Federer, who is recharging his batteries and is not set to reappear until next month's Madrid Masters.
The top seeds all have byes to the second round. Murray's first opponent will be Viktor Troicki, the world No 27 who has lost all four of their previous matches but took him to five sets at last year's French Open, when the Scot was struggling with an ankle injury.
Thereafter Murray is seeded to meet Jurgen Melzer (world No 21) and Tomas Berdych (No 7), with Djokovic (No 1) his scheduled semi-final opponent. Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are the top seeds in the bottom half of the draw.
Yesterday's first day saw Ivan Ljubicic play the 725th and last match of his 16-year career on the main tour. The former world No 3 won 10 titles and led Croatia to their only Davis Cup triumph, in 2005. He has also been one of the most respected figures in the game. The 33-year-old spent six years on the player council of the Association of Tennis Professionals, including two as president, and was the first active player for 16 years to serve on the ATP's board.
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