It is now more than three months since Andy Murray felt in tip-top physical condition. An inflamed left wrist, which he first felt before the US Open, troubled him during the season's final Grand Slam tournament and forced him to take six weeks off. The injury felt much better by the time he returned to competition a fortnight ago, but stiffness and discomfort were inevitable after such a lengthy break.
Nevertheless, by the time he lines up for his first match at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, which begin at the O2 Arena in London next Sunday, Murray should be in as good a shape as anyone in the elite eight-man field. A comeback that produced six wins from seven matches in 10 days – Murray won the Valencia Open and reached the third round of the Paris Masters last week – sharpened the 22-year-old Scot's fitness and he now has a week in which to prepare for the season-ending finale.
"My goal was to get in good enough shape to compete well in London and I think that's been achieved," he said. "I've played a lot of long matches and came through them reasonably well. I'll be match-fit for my first match in London. The wrist is fine, which is great. Coming back from that has been a bit of a nightmare, but it's been absolutely perfect.
"These two tournaments were just what I needed before London and now I can rest to get rid of all the niggles and stiffness. I'll be feeling good going in there, I'm sure – a lot better than I would have been if I had gone out early both weeks."
The worst of the niggles has been a groin problem that has caused some discomfort over the past 10 days, but Murray said it was not serious. "It happens when you don't play for a long time. You just get niggles and little tweaks. When you play matches you just push that little bit extra and move that little bit quicker than you do in practice and sometimes you just tweak things slightly."
Having enjoyed a few days' rest, Murray will get back down to hard work this week. "I don't think the centre court is getting laid at the Arena until Thursday, so when I'm ready I'll practise at Queen's, where they're putting down courts. I'll also spend time in the gym, get myself in good shape and give it my best shot for one last push in London."
With all the players feeling aches and pains at this stage of the season, Murray will clearly be one of the favourites. Defending champion Novak Djokovic has been the man in form in recent weeks but admits that tiredness is catching up with him. Roger Federer looked well below his best in losing to Julien Benneteau in Paris last week; Rafael Nadal continues to rebuild his form after the knee and stomach problems that ruined his summer; and Juan Martin del Potro has retired hurt in both Masters Series events since his US Open victory.
Of the remaining players, Andy Roddick has not won a match since the US Open and has not played since hurting his knee last month; Fernando Verdasco has been running out of steam after his early-season exploits; and Nikolay Davydenko has failed to build on his victory in the Shanghai Masters four weeks ago.
With more than 250,000 tickets sold at the O2, Murray knows the level of expectation will be high, but, like Tim Henman before him, the Scot thrives on the support of his home crowd. He has gone one round further every year at Wimbledon, culminating in his run to this year's semi-finals.
How does he think competing at the O2 will compare with the All England Club? "To be honest I don't think it will be the same as Wimbledon," Murray said. "It's the first time the tournament's been held in London and I guess it's tough to educate the public as to how big a deal it is.
"Wimbledon has the greatest history of any tennis tournament, so there will always be more pressure there and it will always be a bigger deal. But all the players want to play in the end-of-year championships."
There will be little time for rest once the World Tour Finals are over. After a few days' rest, Murray will head to Miami for a one-month training camp where, accompanied by his brother Jamie and occasional doubles partner Ross Hutchins, he will concentrate in particular on fitness work.
From Florida, Murray will head to Australia, where he is playing in the Hopman Cup exhibition event in Perth in the first week of January. He could yet go on to play a tournament in Sydney in the week before the Australian Open, though he is more likely to prepare in Melbourne.Reuse content