Andy Murray is in a hurry. The new season is less than a week old but the 19-year-old Scot is already through to his first final of the campaign after sweeping aside Nikolai Davydenko, the world No 3, at the Qatar Open yesterday.
Despite continuing to suffer the after-effects of a heavy cold, Murray ended the semi-final in complete control against one of the game's most consistent players. The British No 1 won 7-5, 6-2 and meets Ivan Ljubicic, the world No 5, in today's final.
With the Australian Open beginning in Melbourne on Monday week, Murray is hitting form at a time when players often struggle to put their game together. Fresh from his winter training in the United States with Brad Gilbert, his coach, and Mark Grabow, his new fitness guru, the world No 17 has had an excellent week in Doha, despite coughing and spluttering his way through his matches in cold and windy conditions.
Even if Davydenko was well below his best, Murray can regard the win as a significant measure of his progress. He lost twice to the Russian last year and was trounced 6-0 in the fourth and final set of their fourth-round match at the US Open in September.
Davydenko has climbed to No 3 in the world thanks to hard work and sheer consistency. His game is based on his speed around the court, a potent return of serve and relentlessly penetrating groundstrokes.
In New York, Murray was worn down by the excellence of Davydenko's play and at first it seemed he might suffer the same fate here. At 2-2, the Scot lost a service game to love as the No 1 seed pressured his opponent into mistakes.
At 4-3, Murray broke back, giving Davydenko a taste of his own medicine by taking the game when the Russian netted a backhand at the end of a long rally. It proved the turning point. Murray induced a succession of errors from Davydenko, who never looked the same after taking a time-out for treatment to an ankle problem.
The Russian struggled to hold his serve at 4-5 and failed to do so two games later, putting a volley out after Murray's thumping crosscourt backhand. Two of three breaks early in the second set went to Murray, who clinched victory by breaking again.
It will be the fourth final of Murray's career. He beat Lleyton Hewitt in San Jose last February but lost to Roger Federer in Bangkok in October 2005 and to Arnaud Clément in Washington last August.
Murray beat Ljubicic in their last meeting, at the Madrid Masters in October, and the Croat was fortunate to win his semi-final against Sweden's Robin Soderling. The No 2 seed came from match point down to triumph 3-6, 6-4, 7-6.
Whatever today's outcome, Murray has earned enough points to secure a place in the world's top 16, which will guarantee he will not face any of the big names in the Australian Open before round four.
* Roger Rasheed, Hewitt's coach, has parted company with the Australian.