Murray still on a high after heroics Down Under

 

Dubai

On Saturday he went up the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building, yesterday he held court at the Burj Al Arab, the iconic Dubai hotel built in the shape of a billowing sail, and tomorrow he will get back to the business of playing matches. The Dubai Duty Free Championships, which begin here today, will be Andy Murray's first tournament since the Australian Open ended four weeks ago.

The 24-year-old Scot could hardly have chosen a tougher challenge. Eight of the world's top 10 players are here, including Novak Djokovic, who is also making his first post-Melbourne appearance, and Roger Federer, who has been much the busiest of the game's Fab Four, having already played this month in the Davis Cup and in Rotterdam. Rafael Nadal, who is resting an injured shoulder, will not play again until next month.

There is no tournament in the world where such talent is condensed into a 32-man field as it is here. If Murray beats Germany's Michael Berrer, the world No 115, in the first round, the likelihood is that he would have to beat Nikolay Davydenko, Tomas Berdych, Djokovic and then Federer in order to win the title.

"Normally when you come up against a top 10 player you have three or four matches under your belt," Murray said. "It can come a bit sooner in this tournament. A few years ago I played Federer in the first round, so you can get some really tough draws here. You have to come in ready."

Murray feels in good shape, having arrived on Wednesday night after spending a week and a half training hard in Florida with his new coach, Ivan Lendl. The world No 4 has practised every day, though he did not hit for long yesterday because a sandstorm had left sand on the playing surface. Workers armed with brooms and vacuum cleaners were still clearing the main stadium late into the evening.

In the last two years Murray has gone into a post-Melbourne slump, but this time he appears to be in a buoyant mood. He was pleased with his form in Australia, where he came within five points of beating Djokovic in their marathon semi-final. Asked about how he gets over a defeat like the one in Melbourne, he replied: "We'll see this week whether it takes a long time or not. The last few years it took me a while, but I feel great."

Federer, who made some critical comments about the defensive nature of Murray's game after losing to him here four years ago, said he had been impressed by the Scot recently. "I think Andy is playing a touch better as years go by," Federer said. "I always knew he was going to improve, especially on the offence, and he's certainly showing that right now."

Murray was talking on a terrace on the 18th floor of the Burj Al Arab, the ultra-swish hotel where the tournament puts up the leading players. Having successfully deflected a question from a local journalist about the Scottish referendum – "I'll step past that one," he said – Murray was diplomatic when asked whether the Burj Al Arab was the best hotel he had ever stayed in. "I should probably say yes," he smiled. "The decorations aren't maybe quite how I would design my apartment, but it's an unbelievable hotel."

He has been enjoying the Dubai experience. "I went to the Dubai Mall the other day and I went up the Burj Khalifa," he said. "Some people like it, some people don't, but I've had good fun here seeing a few of the sights. The mall is incredible, absolutely massive."

Djokovic, who will be attempting to win the title here for the fourth year in a row, has not played since Melbourne but has continued to pick up trophies. In recent weeks the world No 1 has been presented with the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year award and the Karadjordjeva Star Medal, Serbia's highest honour.

A fierce patriot, Djokovic said the latter award was "incredibly meaningful for me because it comes from my people." He added: "It doesn't have much to do with my tennis, even though I'm a tennis player. It's more about my patriotism, my love for the country and the way I represent it in the world."

Djokovic, whose brother Marko (the world No 867) has been given a wild card here, has also found time to go skiing in the Serbian mountains at Kopaonik, where he took his first steps both on skis and on the tennis court. Most players have sponsorship contracts which forbid them to ski because of the risk of injury, but Djokovic insists his deals do not contain such clauses. "I'm in love with skiing," he said.

The women's tournament ended in triumph for Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat Julia Görges 7-5, 6-4 in Saturday's final. The 23-year-old Pole will rise to a career-high No 5 in today's updated world ranking list. Radwanska's only three defeats this year have been against Victoria Azarenka, the world No 1, who went on to win the title on each occasion.

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