Andy Murray arrived in Melbourne yesterday confident that his run with Laura Robson to the final of the Hopman Cup in Perth last week would prove "perfect preparation" for the Australian Open. The first Grand Slam tournament of the year begins in seven days and Murray says there is no reason why he cannot win it provided he plays to the best of his ability.
On the basis of his first three singles matches in Perth the world No 4 would be one of the clear favourites to win in Melbourne, though Saturday's final was a reminder that standards at the top of the men's game are so high that lapses can be quickly punished. Murray's 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 defeat by Tommy Robredo, the world No 16, was the turning point in the match as Spain went on to win the mixed doubles and claim a 2-1 triumph, Robson having given Britain a flying start with a stunning 6-1, 7-6 victory over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, the world No 26.
Murray chose to play in the mixed team event rather than make his usual start to the season at the Qatar Open on the grounds that it would give him more time to adapt to the heat and time difference Down Under. A sunburnt back following a practice session in which he discarded his shirt was a reminder of how ferocious the sun can be on the other side of the world.
The Hopman Cup, however, is staged in an indoor arena and Murray will look to play at least one practice match outdoors this week. He has not entered the exhibition tournament which begins on Wednesday down the road from Melbourne Park at Kooyong, the former home of the Australian Open, but with plenty of other players practising in the city there are usually opportunities to play one-off matches.
"I'm sure I'll play a match there just to play outdoors," Murray said. "Ideally, I would have played outdoors last week, but I was able to practise outdoors on the off days to acclimatise."
Murray said he had been pleased with his work in Perth. "I've been really happy with the way I've played all week," he said. "It was perfect preparation for the Aussie Open. I'm ready to win it. I just need to play well and if I do then there's no reason why I can't. I'm serving well, moving well and hitting the ball better than I have for a long time from the back of the court.
"Physically I feel good. It was good to play back-to-back days. My back is a little bit stiff because I haven't played much in the past six or seven weeks, but it's good to get the body used to playing. I feel really well prepared."
As for Robson, who has quickly become a big favourite with the public Down Under, there will be little time to draw breath before the 15-year-old returns to competition. She has been awarded a wild card into the qualifying competition for the senior event at the Australian Open beginning on Thursday.
Two other British women, Elena Baltacha and Katie O'Brien, are already assured of places in the main draw thanks to their world rankings. Baltacha was due to play Australia's Jelena Dokic today in the first round of the Hobart International, having successfully negotiated qualifying for the second week in succession thanks to victory yesterday over Russia's Anna Chakvetadze, the world No 67 and a former world No 5.
Rafael Nadal will be one of the defending champions in Melbourne but the world No 2 will go into the event still looking for his first title for eight months. Nadal looked well on the way to breaking that winless run when he took the first set of the Qatar Open final in Doha, but Nikolay Davydenko saved two match points in the second set and went on to win 0-6, 7-6, 6-4. The Russian had beaten Roger Federer, the world No 1, in the semi-finals.
Andy Roddick, who missed the latter stages of last season with a knee injury, made a winning return at the Brisbane International, beating Radek Stepanek 7-6, 7-6 in yesterday's final.
Twenty-four hours earlier Justine Henin had come close to victory after an even longer absence when she failed to take two match points before losing 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 to Kim Clijsters in the women's final. Henin aggravated an injury to her left leg and has pulled out of this week's Sydney International, although she hopes to be fit to play in Melbourne.