Murray makes himself at home

As world's finest gather in London the British No 1 reflects on his return to Dunblane
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The Independent Online

Today he will open the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals by playing Robin Soderling in front of a capacity 17,500 crowd at London's O2 Arena and a worldwide television audience. Three days ago he was hitting balls with David Cameron in 10 Downing Street, apparently more concerned than the prime minister about whether they would damage any of the furniture.

Living such a life would turn the head of many a young man, but Andy Murray takes such occasions in his stride. Experiences like last month's trip back to the family home in Dunblane, where he was best man at his brother Jamie's wedding, help to keep the 23-year-old Scot's feet on the ground.

"It's very important to remember where you came from, what you had, and how lucky you are now to be doing what you're doing," Murray said as looked ahead to this week's end-of-season showpiece. "It keeps everything in perspective.

"I went back to where I used to practise, where I used to spend a lot of time. I went back to the university where I used to train as well. I had a practice with Colin Fleming, who was someone I grew up playing with when I was 12 or 13 years old. I went back to the high school where I used to go, when all of the kids were coming out of school in their uniforms at three o'clock.

"Going back this time, it did seem a long time ago but everything seemed the same. I hadn't forgotten anything, I knew where everything was. The only thing that had changed was the petrol station is now a Marks & Spencer – and that was big news!

"I spent time with my family, which was nice. It was a bit strange for me because I haven't been back there that much. I went round to my gran's house. I used to feel her living room was massive. I could charge around there, no problem. Now I can barely take a step in it without bumping into something. I've obviously grown up a lot, but I love going back home."

There were no speeches at the wedding. His job was to "usher everyone round for the photographs, making sure everyone was in the right place".

He agreed it had felt surreal to be playing tennis with the prime ministerthree weeks later. "This is the stuff that is still obviously a bit strange to me," Murray said. "It was like when I played at Wimbledon for the first time. That was obviously a huge, huge shock to me. Now I understand what comes with the job. I feel like I'm still the same person. I still like just messing around with my friends and doing all the things I used to enjoy doing."

The world No 5 bumped into an old schoolmate who was working at his hotel when he checked in on Thursday, and was in for an even bigger surprise later in the day when he joined his seven rivals this week on a trip to Downing Street. After chatting to the players and impressing them all with his knowledge of their sport, the prime minister picked up Rafael Nadal's racket and suggested a hit with Murray.

"I was more scared than embarrassed," Murray said. "I didn't want to break anything. He was hitting the ball really, really hard at me. I've no idea if everything in there is really valuable. There was a chandelier above where the table wouldnormally be, and a few of the balls were dangerously close to that."

With all due respect to the PM, today Murray faces an opponent who hits the ball even harder. Apart from his two appearances in French Open finals, most of Soderling's success has been indoors. At 6ft 4in and 14st, the 26-year-old is not the quickest of movers and can struggle in less predictable conditions, but on an indoor court his huge serves and ground- strokes are major weapons.

"He's a big, strong guy," Murray said. "Among the other players, everyone thinks he's an incredibly dangerous opponent. When he's on his game, he plays huge tennis so he's obviously very difficult to beat indoors. His game is very different to Rafa [Nadal], Roger [Federer] and Novak [Djokovic]. That's what's nice right now about tennis: all the guys are playing differently at the top of the game."

Federer and David Ferrer, the other two players in Murray's round-robin section, meet tonight, while the other group starts tomorrow, with Nadal playing Andy Roddick and Djokovic facing Tomas Berdych. Two players qualify from each group to go into Saturday's knockout semi-finals.

Twelve months ago, after an injury- troubled season, Nadal failed to win a set in three round-robin matches. He has since won three Grand Slam titles and reclaimed the world No 1 ranking, but the 24-year-old Spaniard has gone off the boil in recent weeks and admitted that the conditions here would count against him. "For me the problem indoors is always the low bounces," he said. "Sometimes it feels like the ball is dead. For me it's easier to play when the ball has life, when there's a big bounce."