With six titles already under his belt this year – more than any other player – Andy Murray insists he is under no pressure going into the final three weeks of the most successful season of his career. Here at this week's Paris Masters, where he plays his first match tonight against James Blake, the Scot's principal aim is simply to get in some more matches following the recent six-week break he was forced to take after injuring his left wrist.
Nevertheless, there would be no better way to round off his campaign than with victory at the Barclays ATP World Tour finals, which begin at the O2 Arena in London in 12 days' time and feature the eight most successful players of the year. Murray, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick have already qualified, while Nikolai Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco took significant steps towards claiming the final two places with victories here yesterday over Benjamin Becker and Andreas Seppi respectively.
"Some of the greatest players ever have won it," Murray said here yesterday as he looked ahead to a tournament which dates back to 1970 and is regarded as the most important after the four Grand Slam events. "It's big for all of the players. I'm sure if you ask Roger or Rafa, or whoever, it's a huge competition, though in terms of the competition and the recognition you get from the press, the public and your peers, a Slam is still a little bit bigger. But obviously it'd still be nice to win it."
He added: "Wimbledon has the greatest history of any tournament, so there will always be more pressure and it will always be a bigger deal, but for the players, everyone wants to play in the end-of-year championships."
Although Murray has had his problems in the second half of this year, with his wrist injury contributing to a disappointing fourth-round exit at the US Open, the world No 4 won the Valencia Open last week and believes he has continued to improve through the season. "I feel like I'm a lot better player now even than I was at the beginning of this year, just from playing matches, getting used to winning more and having that consistency week-in and week-out," he said.
"Last year I wasn't as consistent. I had some bad tournaments. This year, throughout the whole season, there's not been one part of it that I could say: 'That was a big let-down, I didn't play well there, I had a couple of bad months there'. It's been pretty solid the whole way throughout.
"Everyone always tries to find something wrong with my game, or why I haven't won a Grand Slam or haven't been No 1 in the world, or whatever it is that I need to do to prove that I'm a great player. I don't know what that is, but I got to No 2 in the world this year, which I think is good, I improved my results at Wimbledon and at the French Open and won more tournaments than I did last year."
* The Court of Arbitration for Sport is expected to announce its verdict on a possible further drugs ban for Richard Gasquet next month. The Lausanne court yesterday heard an appeal by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Tennis Federation against the two and a half-month ban imposed on the Frenchman earlier this year after he tested positive for cocaine.