With a £50,000 cheque for his previous day's work in his back pocket, Andy Murray was back playing on grass for the first time for three months yesterday. The 20-year-old Scot, fresh from his lucrative Betfair Turbo Tennis victory at the O2 Arena on Saturday, joined up with the rest of Britain's Davis Cup squad for his first practice session at Wimbledon in preparation for this weekend's World Group play-off against Croatia.
In the light of the weather forecast John Lloyd's team may need to take every practice opportunity available. After the Indian summer of recent days, the weather is set to revert to the last time when the nation's sporting focus was on London SW19, with showers predicted for most of the week.
Britain has successfully staged Davis Cup ties on grass in the second half of September in the past, but this was always going to be a calculated risk, based on the fact that Murray and Tim Henman, the home side's two singles players, are comfortable on the surface.
So far the gamble has paid off. Croatia will be without their two most accomplished grass-court exponents – Mario Ancic is injured and Ivo Karlovic is in dispute with his federation – and will rely heavily on Ivan Ljubicic, who is the world No 12 but has never gone beyond the third round in eight appearances at Wimbledon, and Marin Cilic, the world No 117.
However, in a worst-case scenario a rain-ruined tie would be switched to the indoor courts at the National Tennis Centre at Roehampton, which, Murray believes, would benefit the Croats.
"After Federer I think Ljubicic is in the group of best hard-court indoor players in the world," Murray said. "His results have been great. He's won Vienna two years in a row without losing his serve, so it would be really tough to beat him if we had to move indoors. Cilic plays well indoors too. All of their players are big guys who hit the ball well, so I think it would definitely be a disadvantage if we had to move indoors."
Murray said he had talked to Ljubicic about his mediocre form on grass and the Croat had explained that the return of serve was his greatest problem. "Some guys just find the movement really difficult," Murray said. "Ljubicic doesn't come into the net that much. He plays from quite a long way back behind the baseline and doesn't like the really quick courts as much."
Murray had been practising outdoors on hard courts since the US Open, when he made a successful comeback following a wrist injury, and felt the benefits at the O2 Arena.
He knocked out his brother, Jamie, in the semi-finals and then beat Goran Ivanisevic, who had accounted for Greg Rusedski and James Blake in his first two matches.
"I've been practising hard since New York, working on the things I wasn't doing so well," Murray said. "I've been trying to improve my net game a lot, which I showed today. I didn't lose one point when I came to the net."
The standard of tennis on a lightning-fast indoor court was never high, but the encouragingly young crowd of more than 9,000 clearly enjoyed the shortened match format. Matches lasted exactly 30 minutes and were decided by games won rather than sets. Sudden-death points were played at deuce and there were strict time limits between games and points.
The event also gave a foretaste – and a positive one at that – of what the end-of-season Tennis Masters Cup (which will be renamed the ATP World Tour Finals) will be like when the tournament is staged at the O2 Arena from 2009. Some indoor arenas of comparable size can be cavernous and lacking in atmosphere, but with its steep banks of seating and circular design that will not be a problem at the London venue.Reuse content