Andy Murray does not want to make public his ranking target for 2007, but with 51 weeks of the year remaining it can safely be assumed that he is ahead of schedule. While the 19-year-old Scot was disappointed to lose 6-4, 6-4 to Ivan Ljubicic in the final of the Qatar Open on Saturday, the progress he made in the first week of the new campaign will be reflected when the latest rankings are announced today. Murray is expected to climb two places to No 15, his highest-ever position.
It was no surprise that Murray left Doha for Melbourne - where the Australian Open starts a week today - feeling the effects of the previous six days. He had gone into his first tournament of the year suffering from a heavy cold and had to play in chilly and windy conditions throughout. He also admitted that playing in the doubles - he reached the semi-finals in partnership with his brother Jamie - had taken its toll.
"My legs weren't as fresh as they probably would have been," Murray said. "I said at the start of the week it's not so much about how tired you get, it's about getting matches ahead of the Australian. I played three doubles matches, five singles. I'd rather be in that position than only having played one singles match."
Murray will finish his Australian Open preparations at the AAMI Classic exhibition tournament, which begins at the Kooyong club in Melbourne on Wednesday. The format of the elite eight-man event, which includes the likes of Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin, means that he will be guaranteed three matches.
Ljubicic, the world No 5, is also in the field. The Croat acknowledged that he had been pushed all the way in Doha, Murray having failed to convert any of the eight break points he had earned in the first set. "He is heading for the top 10 for sure," Ljubicic said.
Murray, playing in his fourth final (he has won just one, in San Jose 11 months ago), paid tribute to Ljubicic's fighting qualities.
"He played well in the key points," the British No 1 said. "I played OK. I didn't hit the ball as well as I would have liked from the ground. I started to hit it better at the end of the second set, but it was too late."
In the first week's other warm-up tournaments, Serbia's Novak Djokovic beat Australia's Chris Guccione in Adelaide to claim his third ATP title, while the Belgian Xavier Malisse beat Stefan Koubek in Chennai.
Malisse, who began working again with David Felgate, Tim Henman's former coach, last year, beat Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals to leave the world No 2 still looking for his first tournament win since last year's French Open. Nadal is playing this week in Sydney, where he has a tough first assignment against the hard-serving Guccione. Lleyton Hewitt, whose coach Roger Rasheed resigned last week, has pulled out, citing a calf injury.
The Sydney event has attracted a strong women's field, headed by Amélie Mauresmo, Kim Clijsters and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Clijsters began her last year before retirement by beating Maria Sharapova in the final of an exhibition tournament in Hong Kong on Saturday.