Murray and Robson form dream team to start the season in style

The British duo tell Paul Newman about pairing up for the Hopman Cup as Australian Open countdown begins
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It is only 27 days since Rafael Nadal and his Davis Cup amigos brought the 2009 season to a close with victory in Barcelona, but by the time this newspaper reaches the news stands the opening shots of the 2010 campaign will already have been fired.

The Hopman Cup, the International Tennis Federation's official curtain-raiser to the new season, begins today in Perth, just 16 days before the start of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.

The players barely have a chance to catch their breath during the close season, let alone enjoy a break, and most take the opportunity to work on their physical preparation for the challenges ahead. When Andy Murray and Laura Robson join forces in Western Australia they might debate who has been working the harder over the last month. Murray has spent the last four weeks at his customary Miami boot camp – he was flying to Perth yesterday, having spent Christmas in Florida — while Robson did altitude fitness work in Val d'Isere and warm-weather training in Mauritius.

Both Britons are making their debut at the Hopman Cup, an exhibition event which brings together eight national teams – each comprising one man and one woman – in a round-robin format, guaranteeing all the players at least three singles and three mixed doubles matches. Britain's Murray and Robson, enter the fray on Monday against Kazakhstan (Andrei Golubev and Yaroslava Shvedova) and then take on Germany (Philipp Kohlschreiber and Sabine Lisicki) on Wednesday and Russia (Igor Andreev and Elena Dementieva) on Friday.

''It will be good fun,'' Murray said. ''I haven't seen Laura play that much, but she's had good results. I've spoken to her a little bit and she's a nice girl. Hopefully we can do well. It's good preparation for Australia.''

As for his partner, this will be a rare opportunity to work alongside a player who made such a successful switch into senior tennis after winning – as Robson did – a Grand Slam junior title. ''It's going to be great to learn from him and see how he prepares,'' the 2008 Wimbledon girls' champion said.

In each of the previous three years Murray began his competitive campaign at the Qatar Open, where Nadal and Roger Federer will again be playing next week. The Scot had an excellent record in Doha, reaching the 2007 final and winning the title in 2008 and 2009. Twelve months ago he also beat Federer and Nadal to win the previous week's exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi, where the world's top two have again been playing this weekend.

However, Murray did not take that winning formula into the Australian Open, which has been his least successful Grand Slam event. The world No 4 usually performs well in the heat and on hard courts, but he has never gone beyond the fourth round in Melbourne.

Unless he requests a late wild card in Sydney the week after next, Murray will go to the Australian Open without any competitive matches under his belt. However, he hopes to benefit from getting the jet lag out of his system and acclimatising to the hot weather, temperatures in Perth having hit 40C in the past week.

''I obviously did well in Doha in previous years, but you play every match at night and it's cold,'' Murray said. ''I was coming back from Miami and going to Scotland for a few days over Christmas and then going to Doha, so I had two weeks of bad weather and then went to Australia, where I basically had just four or five days to get used to the heat again.''

He added: ''I need to make sure I'm playing my best tennis going into the Grand Slams. That's why I'm preparing for Australia like I am this year.''

Murray's partner, who was born in Melbourne and has Australian parents, spent a family Christmas Down Under. The Robsons moved to Britain when Laura, now 15, was six.

Robson, who has a British passport, trained at the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton last month, though she has spent an increasing amount of time at the Mouratoglou academy in Paris. ''It's a really nice place to train, where you can just focus on tennis,'' she said. ''I've been training a lot. I've been working on fitness and everything in Paris, kind of away from everything. I think it's been helping a lot.''

After Robson's 2008 breakthrough, 2009 had its ups and downs. She reached the Australian Open junior final, but growing pains – following another growth spurt she is now a strapping 5ft 10in – subsequently restricted her tournament appearances. Nevertheless, she reached the semi-finals of the US Open junior event, which was won by her fellow Briton Heather Watson, and was more than satisfied with her year. ''I think I've made some really big improvements in my movement and everything, but I can still keep improving a lot,'' she said.

Juniors are restricted in the number of senior tournaments they can play, but Robson can enter up to 12 events on the main women's tour this year. She will combine those with junior competitions, while GCSE exams will also be a factor in her schedule. Robson turns 16 later this month and has already told Murray she is expecting a birthday gift. ''He said he might buy me something small,'' she smiled.

Murray will be 23 in May. Although most winners of Grand Slams have claimed their first major by that age, the Scot believes time is on his side. ''I always felt I could start playing my best tennis between 23 and 26 so I'm hoping this is going to be a good year,'' he said. ''I got to No 2 in the world in 2009, which is the highest I've ever been. I won more tournaments than I did the previous year and my consistency was way better.

''The difference in the rankings is winning a Grand Slam, which is easier said than done, but I think I've got a chance of doing it in 2010. Within tennis, it's important for me to do it, but there are a lot more things for me to worry about than just a Grand Slam. I'm going to work as hard as I can and dedicate as much of my time to it as possible.''

That hard work continued in Florida, where Murray practised with his coaches Miles Maclagan and Alex Corretja at Crandon Park, home of a Masters Series tournament every spring, and on the track at the University of Miami. Amongst the torture sessions organised by his fitness team were sessions of 10 76-second laps of the 400m running track, with just 76 seconds of recovery time between each. Nevertheless, Murray still found time to try his hand at wakeboarding, take in a Miami Heat basketball match and play in Andy Roddick's charity tournament at Boca Raton.

While the singles will be the focus of Murray's work next week he is looking forward to the mixed doubles, having last played in that format five years ago. Before setting off for Perth he said he would seek advice from his brother, Jamie, who won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Jelena Jankovic and reached the US Open final with Liezel Huber. ''I've played mixed doubles a couple of times and I'm not very good at it,'' Andy admitted. ''There's a certain way of playing mixed.''

As for Robson, her main concern is being in the firing line when standing at the net. ''I've already told Andy that if I get hit I won't be happy,'' she said.

New year, new result: Soderling wins at last

*Robin Soderling celebrated the new year by claiming his first victory over Roger Federer at the 13th attempt, seeing off the world No 1 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 in the Capitala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi yesterday. He fought back from a set and a break down to book a place in the final of the six-man event against Rafael Nadal, who beat David Ferrer 7-6, 6-3.