Murray makes perfect start to year with win over Nadal

British No 1 looks lean and mean as he takes title in Abu Dhabi exhibition event

It may have been only an exhibition tournament, but Andy Murray could hardly have made a better start to what he hopes will be a momentous year. Having beaten Roger Federer, the world No 2, in Friday's semi-finals at the so-called "World Tennis Championship" in Abu Dhabi, Murray went on to beat the No 1, Rafael Nadal, 6-4 5-7 6-3 in yesterday's final.

The winner-takes-all first prize of $250,000 (about £172,000) – added to an appearance fee that may well have been in excess of that figure – gave the 21-year-old Scot good reason to smile after his victory, though he will take greater pleasure from the fact that he looks set to hit the ground running in 2009. He now heads along the Gulf coast to Doha for the Qatar Open, which begins tomorrow and willbe his only tournament before the Australian Open in a fortnight's time.

Following his breakthrough season last year, when he climbed to No 4 in the world rankings and reached his first Grand Slam final, Murray again spent the off-season concentrating on physical work. He was in Miami for most of December with his coaching and fitness team, spending many hours on the track and in the gym.

Just as his improved physical condition was a major factor in his results last year, so Murray's fitness was evident against Nadal, who has been making his first appearance since suffering the knee injury that kept him off court at the end of last season and forced him to miss Spain's Davis Cup final victory over Argentina.

It was Murray's first meeting with Nadal since he beat him for the first time in the semi-finals of last year's US Open. "It was a tough match," Murray said afterwards. "He made me do a lot of running, and in the first week of the year you obviously feel it in your body a bit. I worked really hard in November and December to give myself the best chance in Australia. I've never been past the fourth round before, but I'll give it my best shot."

The two men served up some thrilling tennis for the capacity crowd at Zayed Sports City, though it would be wrong to draw any major conclusions from the match. The players rarely read anything into exhibition events, which they sometimes use to try out particular shots and strategies.

While the tennis can be spectacular – as it was yesterday – this is often because the players take risks and go for shots they would not try in serious competition. The results of exhibition matches do not go into the record books and players can be happy to lose, knowing they have not shown their full hand.

Doha, which Murray sees as ideal preparation for Melbourne, will be a different matter. Playing there provides a good level of competition and leaves him a week in Australia to prepare for the year's first Grand Slam event. Murray won in Doha last year, beating Nikolay Davydenko and Stanislas Wawrinka on his way to the first of his five titles in 2008. Two years ago he reached the final, losing to Ivan Ljubicic.

This year's field is stronger than ever and includes Nadal, Federer, Andy Roddick and seven other top-50 players. Murray's first opponent will be Spain's Albert Montanes, the winner to play Philipp Petzschner or Jérémy Chardy. Murray is seeded to play Dmitry Tursunov in the quarter-finals and Federer in the semis, with Nadal heading the other half of the draw.

After Doha, Murray will fly on to Melbourne. The Australian Open is played on hard courts, his favourite surface, but has not been the most productive of tournaments for him.

On his debut three years ago, Murray lost in the first round to Juan Ignacio Chela and was unhappy about what he saw as the media's weight of expectation on his shoulders. The following year was better, a run to the fourth round ending with a five-set loss to Nadal, but there was more disappointment last year, when he again went out in the opening round, although his conqueror, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, went on to beat Nadal en route to his first Grand Slam final.

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot