When Andy Murray cast doubt on Monday over his participation in November’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, fearing he would not have enough time to prepare properly for Britain’s Davis Cup final against Belgium the following week, he might have been thinking back to last year.
Roger Federer won his first four matches at the O2 Arena in 2014 only to pull out on the day of the final with a back injury. Five days later he was beaten by Gaël Monfils on an indoor clay court in Lille in Switzerland’s Davis Cup final against France. Federer had had minimal practice on clay, while the French had spent a fortnight training on the surface.
A similar scenario could be played out this year, with Belgium, the Davis Cup final hosts, expected to choose an indoor clay court. Murray and his brother, Jamie, are likely to be the only players taking part in the final who will have qualified for the previous week’s World Tour Finals, which are played on an indoor hard court. Andy has already secured his place while Jamie and his Australian partner, John Peers, are in a strong position to claim theirs.
Despite the major rewards on offer in London in terms of prize-money and ranking points, the Davis Cup is Andy Murray’s main target for the rest of this year. He loves playing for his country, as he showed at the Olympics three years ago, and made extraordinary efforts in this year’s Davis Cup victories over France and Australia, winning his singles rubbers and the doubles alongside his brother in both ties.
Opportunities like this do not come along often and Murray wants to give his team the best chance of winning the Davis Cup for the first time since 1936 in their first final since 1978. He might not attempt the same super-human feats next year: the first round will be held on the first weekend of March, shortly after his wife Kim is due to give birth to their first child, while the quarter-finals are sandwiched into a hectic period between Wimbledon and the US Open along with the Olympics and two Masters Series tournaments.
Drawing up a calendar in tennis acceptable to all parties is complicated by the number of governing bodies. The Davis Cup is run by the International Tennis Federation and the World Tour Finals – along with the rest of the main tour but not the four Grand Slam events – by the Association of Tennis Professionals.
The season’s finale in London is the ATP’s biggest revenue-earner and participation is mandatory for those who qualify. Pulling out without a bona fide injury or other good reason – and simply wanting more time to prepare for the Davis Cup final would not fall into that category – would lead to serious sanctions, including the withdrawal of automatic entry to the main draw of ATP tournaments in 2016 and removal from the bonus pool programme, under which Murray is set to earn $880,000 (about £568,000) this year. He would also forego his fee of $167,000 for playing three round-robin matches at the World Tour Finals, not to mention the prize-money on offer.
However, the tournament has not been Murray’s happiest hunting ground. He withdrew with an injury after playing only one round-robin match in 2011 and pulled out in 2013 after back surgery. In six appearances he has made the semi-finals only twice and never reached the final.
Chris Kermode, the executive chairman and president of the ATP, who has had a good relationship with Murray ever since he ran the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club, stressed last night all players who qualify for London are required to play there.
“We are aware of [his] comments made after the Davis Cup tie in Glasgow, however our expectations are that, if fully fit, Andy would compete in this year’s tournament,” Kermode said in a statement. “Unless we hear otherwise via an official withdrawal, he is still entered to compete.”
The words “fully fit” could offer a way out. Murray, who is due to discuss his schedule for the rest of the year with his entourage in the next few days, might try to convince the ATP that his back is simply not up to playing two events in successive weeks on different surfaces. The ATP has already made contact with his camp to discuss the situation. All concerned will be hoping to find a speedy solution.Reuse content