Murray: 'I can beat Federer twice in a week'
Andy Murray's confidence is sky high after his best ever season – and he insists he's not daunted by fierce competition in the week ahead at the O2 Arena.
According to Phil Anderton, chairman of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, ticket sales for next week's event at the O2 Arena make it "the equivalent of 15 sold-out Led Zeppelin concerts".
No pressure there, then, as Andy Murray attempts to round off the best year of his career with victory in front of a home crowd at the season-ending championships, which are being staged in London for the first time. More than 250,000 tickets have been sold for the event, which starts tomorrow, making it the best supported indoor tournament in the history of tennis and the biggest ever staged in Britain other than at Wimbledon.
The elite eight-man field, which is split into two round-robin groups before the semi-finals and final, features all the biggest names – with the exception of Andy Roddick, who is injured – but Murray will know that much of the British public's interest is down to him. A quarter of the tickets have been sold in Scotland and the north of England.
"The atmosphere will be great in there and hopefully the support will make a difference to the way I play," the 22-year-old Scot said at yesterday's official launch. "Indoors is always where you get the best atmosphere. It just feels different – and obviously at the O2 they're used to putting on concerts and big events.
"I see this event as just behind the Grand Slams. You have to win four or five matches against the top players in the world. You might even have to beat the No 1 or the No 2 in the world twice to win the tournament. It's not quite the same as a Grand Slam, but it's still a huge, huge tournament.
"I'm sure all the players are proud of qualifying. It's a big thing for everyone. If you look at the guys who have won the competition it's pretty much the greatest players ever who have won it, so it's obviously great to be a part of it. But you need not to think about that when you go on the court and just try to win your matches."
The tournament has operated under various guises since it was first launched as the Masters by Jack Kramer in 1970. Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl head the list of winners, having won the title five times each, with Roger Federer and Ilie Nastase one behind. Murray is aiming to become only the third winner without a Grand Slam title to his name, after David Nalbandian and Alex Corretja.
The prize money and ranking points indicate the event's importance. There is $120,000 (£72,000) on offer just for taking part and the same for each win in the round-robin phase. An undefeated champion would take home $1.63m (nearly £1m), which is the biggest prize in tennis.
With 1500 ranking points going to an undefeated winner, the tournament could have a major effect on the year-end rankings. Murray is in danger of losing his No 4 position to Juan Martin del Potro, who has been closing on the Scot since the summer, while Rafael Nadal could overtake Federer as No 1. The Spaniard, nevertheless, has admitted that his country's Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic in Barcelona next month is a bigger priority.
The tournament has a tradition for pampering the players, who are staying at a swish hotel opposite the Houses of Parliament, and will travel to the arena by riverboat. They all appeared yesterday in suits made especially for the tournament, while the gifts they were given included Fossil watches, headphones and sunglasses.
With such an elite field and limited practice facilities, the players spend more time in each other's company than at most events. Murray, who trained at Queen's Club earlier in the week, practised with Novak Djokovic yesterday.
This is Murray's second appearance in the end-of-season showpiece. He reached the semi-finals last year before losing to Nikolay Davydenko, his chances of further progress damaged by the effort he had put into beating Federer in a three-hour epic the previous night. Murray did not need to beat Federer, having already qualified from the round-robin group, but could not resist the opportunity to strike a psychological blow against the Swiss, who went out of the tournament as a result.
Murray said he would adopt the same approach if a similar situation arose next week. "A lot of people said I focused too much on results and winning all the time, but obviously winning against Federer in one of the year's biggest competitions is one of the best wins of the year for me," he said.
"Unfortunately it didn't go well for me the next day, but I've won six and lost three against Federer and I can take that with me for my career. It's not always just about winning tournaments. It's sometimes nice to beat the big players in epic matches. Unfortunately that takes a little bit out of you sometimes."
How did Murray feel about the fact that in order to win the title he might have to beat Federer twice, having been drawn in a group with the world No 1, Juan Martin del Potro and Fernando Verdasco?
"I've won against him before so I obviously think I can do it again," Murray said. "It's a great challenge every time you play against him."
Murray plays his opening match tomorrow against Del Potro. The Argentine, who yesterday committed to play in the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club for the next three years, won the US Open two months ago but Murray and Federer will be fancied to progress to the semi-finals.
Djokovic, the world No 3 and the game's most successful player in recent weeks, and Nadal will be favourites to head the other group, though Davydenko, winner last month of the Shanghai Masters, and Robin Soderling, who plays particularly well indoors, could both spring surprises.
Murray, having only just returned to competition after a six-week break with an injury to his left wrist, said he would not go into the tournament with high expectations. "I'm not putting too much pressure on myself," he said. "I'm not expecting to go out there and play great, though I might go out and do well because of that.
Whatever the outcome, Murray is proud of his achievements during a year in which he has won six titles and reached – albeit briefly – No 2 in the world rankings. "It's been my best year on tour without question," he said.
Order of play
1 D Nestor (Can) & N Zimonjic (Ser) v 8 M Fyrstenberg (Pol) & M Matkowski (Pol)
Not before 2.15pm
4 A Murray (GB) v 5 J del Potro (Arg)
3 M Bhupathi (India) & M Knowles (Bah) v 5 F Cermak (Cz Rep) & M Mertinak (Slovak)
Not before 8.45pm
1 R Federer (Swit) v 7 F Verdasco (Sp)
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