Not much can ease the disappointment of losing a Grand Slam final, but as Andy Murray reflected on his defeat to Roger Federer at the Australian Open the updated world ranking list provided hard evidence of his progress.
Murray is back up to No 3, just 510 ranking points behind Novak Djokovic, the new No 2, with Rafael Nadal out of the world's top three for the first time in five years and nursing another knee injury that will keep him out of action for at least four weeks.
Federer, of course, is on another planet, more than 3,000 points away, but on current form there is no one closer to the Swiss than Murray, who believes that with each passing year he is learning how better to manage his assault on the major honours. "You get to an age when you start to enjoy it more," Murray said. "I don't feel I have to play every week, so I can spend more time at home and pick my schedule a lot better. I'm more relaxed than I was 18 months or two years ago."
Murray is planning to play less this year. He is scheduled to compete in Marseilles and Dubai this month, will go to Indian Wells and Miami in March and will then give himself time to practise on clay.
"I want to make sure that I don't overplay too much at the start of the year because the clay-court season and into Wimbledon is very busy," he added. "Monte Carlo is not on the schedule for me if things go well in Miami. I want to make sure I have a couple of weeks getting ready before I play my first tournament on clay. Last year I had only four or five days and I need to learn a lot of things and go over to Barcelona and work with Miles [Maclagan] and Alex [Corretja] for a bit."
After his best Australian Open, Murray said that he would again come Down Under early next year. "I don't know what tournaments I'll play in the lead-up, but it does make a big difference coming here earlier, getting used to the conditions, getting over the jet lag. I felt a lot better going into the tournament this year.
"I only dropped one set going into the final and beat some really tough players on the way, so it's been great, I've enjoyed my time over here. It was just a shame the final didn't go my way."
Murray said there were areas of his game he would try to improve. "There is obviously stuff I need to work on and get better at, but I lost to the best player of all time so there's not too much that can get loads better in my game. I can improve on a few things. I'll keep working on my serve and physically I can still get better. I would have liked to have played better further up the court in the service box. I missed a few volleys I shouldn't have done."
As for his chances of winning his first Grand Slam title, Murray said he expected the challenge to be equally tough for a while yet. "At Wimbledon Roger is still going to be favourite for the next few years, while on the clay Rafa is still the best player when he's fit. On the hard courts Roger plays great, but there are guys who can win against him if they play their best.
"But if he is fit and motivated and his body holds up, which is the most important thing, then he can go on. Look at someone like Lleyton Hewitt, who has just had hip surgery. Roger has never had surgery. He's kept himself in good shape and there's no reason he can't play for another four or five years."Reuse content