'Expectations are high' admits Andy Murray as he returns from injury and illness to throw himself into clay season

The Scot is back after shingles and an elbow problem, and he told Paul Newman he thinks he'll be at peak condition for Roland Garros

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The Independent Online

Injury and illness have contributed to an unexpectedly slow start to 2017 for Andy Murray but as the sun shone brightly on a glorious first day here at the Monte Carlo Masters the world No 1 was looking forward to brighter times ahead.

Having been laid low by shingles, which may have been the price he paid for taking such a short break after his gruelling finale to last season, Murray now hopes to have recovered fully from the elbow injury which forced him out of last month’s Miami Masters.

“By the French Open I would not think my expectations would be any different this year,” Murray said as he looked ahead to the coming weeks. “Maybe this week they would be slightly lower, but I think my expectations through the rest of the clay-court season are quite high.”

Monte Carlo marks the traditional start to the European clay-court season, which gathers pace with the Masters events in Madrid and Rome and reaches a climax at the French Open, which starts in just six weeks’ time. Last year Murray enjoyed the best clay-court run of his career, winning the Rome title and finishing runner-up at both Madrid and Roland Garros.

While Roger Federer is not planning to play on clay until the French Open, nearly all the other leading men are launching their clay-court campaigns here this week, including Novak Djokovic, who is also recovering after an elbow injury, and Rafael Nadal, who will be aiming to win this title for the tenth time.

Murray took a break of more than two weeks after suffering the elbow injury last month at Indian Wells, where he lost first time out to Vasek Pospisil. The problem has particularly affected his serve.

“When I had the injury, I had to take two and a half weeks off serving,” Murray said.  “When I started serving again, I had to progress very slowly, but in the last couple of days I've been serving pretty much close to the speed that I would normally.  My elbow has reacted well, so I feel good about it.”

Although Murray was unable to play in Britain’s recent Davis Cup tie against France, he recovered sufficiently to face Roger Federer last week in an exhibition match in Zurich in aid of the Australian Open champion’s charitable foundation.

The Scot confirmed his participation in Zurich in a phone call to Federer only three days before the event. However, he was hitting his serves well below his normal speed.

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“In the first game of the match I served two double-faults into the bottom of the net,” Murray said.  “I was like: ‘Oh, no, I’ve come all this way and I promised him I was going to be able to serve OK, yet I couldn't hit a ball in the court.’

“The thing was, I could play totally normally.  I was practising absolutely fine.  I just couldn't serve properly, with full power.  I could play a competitive match and make it entertaining, for sure, but I wouldn’t have entered a tournament last week because I couldn’t serve full power.”

It was only at the end of last week that Murray decided to compete here, having spent a few days practising nearby at Patrick Mouratoglou’s academy.

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Murray played Federer in a charity event last week (AFP/Getty )

Two other Britons will be in action on Monday, when Kyle Edmund and Dan Evans meet for the first time, but Murray will not start until Wednesday, when he faces  Gilles Muller or Tommy Robredo. “I will have had pretty much five days before my match of serving at the right speed, so I think it will be fine,” Murray said. 

The enforced break has also helped Murray to recover from the other physical issues he suffered at the beginning of this year. He gave an uncharacteristically lacklustre performance in losing to Mischa Zverev in the fourth round of the Australian Open and later went down with shingles.

Murray now admits that he might have pushed himself too hard following his remarkable push at the end of last year to reach the top of the world rankings.

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Andy Murray admits he might have stretched himself physically (Getty)

“It’s difficult,” he said.  “I had never been in that position that I was in at the end of the year. I had never played that much tennis and didn’t know exactly what the right thing to do was. If I was in the exact same position next year I would probably do some things differently in terms of the amount of time off I had or where I trained.”

However, Murray insisted that he now felt “absolutely fine” and added: “I don’t feel more tired than usual.  I'm training really well. I’ve got lots of tournaments coming up, so I’m looking forward to it.”

The fact that Murray has increased his lead at the top of the world rankings to more than 4,000 points has largely been down to the fact that Djokovic has been failing to defend the points he won in the first three months of 2016.

Sir Andy Murray warns Roger Federer to avoid deep-fried Mars bars

From now onwards, however, it will be Murray’s turn to defend substantial points tallies almost every week. However, he insists that is not playing on his mind and says he is thinking more about his place in the calendar-year “Race”, which decides the field for the season-ending World Tour Finals.  

 “What I did at the end of last year is something I'm not expecting to do again, so it’s not something I've been thinking about loads this year,” he said. “The end of last year was a bit different for me, when I was trying to get to No 1 for the first time. 

“I’m more interested about where I am this year.  Obviously I have some work to do to push myself back up in the rankings again this year.  That starts this week.”

Murray warmed up for his week’s work here with a marathon sitting in one of Monte Carlo’s best restaurants on Saturday night.

“We had, like, nine courses,” he said. “There were a few things I ate that I would never order like mackerel, baby lamb, all sorts of different fish and soups and they just kept bringing stuff. It just kept coming and the team had a decent amount of wine that they matched with the courses. It was quite fancy.”

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