An extraordinary year is finishing in appropriate style for Jonny Marray. The 31-year-old Briton and his Danish partner, Freddie Nielsen, carried on where they had left off four months ago at Wimbledon – where they became the first wild cards ever to win the All England Club men's doubles title – when they won their opening round-robin match here yesterday at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Marray and Nielsen beat India's Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna 6-4, 6-7, 12-10 after saving two match points in the deciding champions' tie-break.
The victory ensures that Marray will earn more this week than he used to take home in a year. Each doubles player here receives $32,500 (£20,300) just for taking part, while each round-robin victory is worth an extra $12,500 (£7,800); winning the title undefeated would be worth $165,000 (£103,000) per player. Until 2012, Marray had earned an average of £21,000 a year in prize-money, but, thanks in large part to his £130,000 Wimbledon cheque, he had earned more than £181,000 this year before arriving here.
With the players staying in a luxury hotel and travelling to the arena by boat, the year-ending finale is a far cry from the world of Challenger and Futures tournaments where Marray and Nielsen have spent most of their careers. Marray, who still drives a Ford Fiesta, recalled playing in a Futures tournament in Andijan in Uzbekistan seven years ago. "I think there was an uprising," he said.
"The British consulate had to come in and drive us out in an armed convoy. That was a bit different. It was in the middle of nowhere. You fly into Tashkent and it's a six-hour car journey to where they had the tournament. The hotel facilities were pretty basic, to say the least. It's all character-building stuff, isn't it?"
Nielsen, 29, said his life had changed dramatically since Wimbledon – "People are asking me to be in TV shows and write books" – and added: "We're sitting here doing a press conference after a win at the O2 Arena. Normally I would sit in the locker room at Loughborough and consider what went wrong in my singles qualifying match." However, Nielsen will not be playing doubles next year with Marray. He said he played tennis "because I love it" and was not prepared to give up singles to concentrate on doubles. "If I changed my philosophy and my outlook on life in order to play doubles, then it wouldn't make me happy," he said. "If I skipped singles now, it would be for the sake of results and money. That's never going to motivate me."
While Marray was en route to his first Masters Series semi-final in Paris last week alongside Australia's Paul Hanley, Nielsen was playing Italian league tennis. "When the year is done, I'm pretty sure it's going to be back to normal again," Nielsen said. "When I'm playing my singles tournament that nobody gives a rat's arse about, I'm sure it's going to be back to reality."
Nielsen and Marray trailed 5-1 in yesterday's tie-break before launching a fightback. Marray's reflexes kept them in the match when they were 10-9 down, the Briton somehow clawing the ball back after it had seemed to pass both him and his partner, before Nielsen served out for victory.
Marray said he was enjoying "every minute" of this week's event, which features the year's best eight singles players and doubles pairs. Nielsen described it as "probably the most exclusive tennis tournament in the world" and said he had never thought he would be part of it.
"It's indescribable how cool it is to be a part of as a player," Nielsen said. "I think Jonny is the same. We're trying to make the most of every minute. I'm considering not sleeping just to get it all in."