Murray aware of the need to be switched on from the off
He has some way to go before he can match Roger Federer, who will be playing in the season-ending championships for the ninth year in succession, but Andy Murray will go into the ATP World Tour Finals at London's O2 Arena as one of the more experienced players in the field.
Murray, who opens the tournament against Robin Soderling tomorrow afternoon, is making his third appearance at the event, which brings together the eight most successful players of the year, and is well aware of the challenges presented by its round-robin format.
Murray and Soderling are in a section with Federer and David Ferrer, while Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Roddick and Tomas Berdych are in the other group. Winning two out of the three group matches is usually sufficient to earn a place in the knock-out semi-finals, though that was not enough to send Murray through last year.
"You have to be switched on from the first match because you know you'll be playing against one of the best players in the world," Murray said yesterday at the official tournament launch at a hotel opposite the Houses of Parliament. "But you can still come back if you lose a match. I've made a good start the three times I've played in the tournament."
Murray, who reached the semi-finals on his debut two years ago, starts against an opponent whose continuing improvement culminated in his first Masters Series title in Paris last weekend. That victory also saw Soderling replace Murray at No 4 in the world rankings.
"He's a big guy, serves well and hits the ball well from the back of the court," Murray said. "That's what makes him difficult. You need to play smart against him. You're not going to get many chances, so when you do you need to take them. I'm hoping that if I play well I'll give myself a chance of winning."
Murray added: "Most of the guys can play their best tennis on indoor courts. Maybe Rafa hasn't played his best tennis indoors, but he's capable of playing great anywhere. Roger and Robin obviously like playing indoors, I've played well indoors and so has Djokovic. Berdych is a huge hitter of the ball and is very dangerous on an indoor court. Ferrer says the court here is playing very similarly to the one he won on in Valencia a couple of weeks ago. You can't predict who's going to win a tournament like this."
Although Murray's temporary drop to No 5 at the start of this year meant that he had to face Nadal as early as the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, the Scot does not regard the rankings as particularly significant.
"I still have a chance of finishing No 3 if I have a great tournament here," he said. "It doesn't change a whole lot. If you want to win Grand Slams and big tournaments then there are tough matches, whether they're in the quarters or the semis."
More than 250,000 spectators attended the tournament when it was first staged here last year and similar crowds are expected again at the 17,500-capacity O2 Arena. "The venue is going to be great," Murray said.
"The atmosphere last year was excellent. As a professional athlete if you play away from home you have to learn to get in the zone and block everything out, but when you play at home it makes a big difference when you have the crowd behind you."
Nadal did not win a set in his three matches here 12 months ago. The world No 1 has had a momentous year since, winning three Grand Slam titles, but admitted that playing indoors on a low-bouncing court did not suit his game. He has recovered from the tendonitis in his shoulder that forced him to miss Paris last week but said it would be a major challenge to come back and face such formidable opposition so quickly. His first match is against Roddick on Monday.
Roddick, the lowest ranked player in the group, should fancy his chances of reaching the semi-finals. Djokovic may be distracted by the prospect of playing in Serbia's first Davis Cup final in a fortnight's time, while Berdych has rarely been at his best since reaching the final at Wimbledon.
Soderling is the man in form in the other section, but Federer, who plays his opening match against Ferrer tomorrow night, is the bookmakers' favourite to win the title for a fifth time. "I feel like I've got one more tournament left in me this year," he said. "That has been my mindset for a long time. I know when the season starts and ends.
"My body isn't screaming for a vacation quite yet. I don't want my mind to do that otherwise I won't be 100 per cent focused on my matches. This is a huge tournament for me. It's a goal of the season to make it here. It's always fun to play my fellow top 10 players at the end of the season. I hope I can save my best till last."
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