Andy Murray arrives in Abu Dhabi a new man
Once again the Mubadala World Tennis Championship brings to Abu Dhabi the crème de la crème of the gentleman’s sport and this year the line-up is stronger than ever with five of the world’s top 10 and three of the world’s top six coming to the UAE capital.
The sensational line-up is headlined by two MWTC champions, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, after Rafael Nadal, the only other player to have lifted the trophy in Abu Dhabi, was ruled out on Christmas Day.
Four years ago, we were treated to a phenomenal final between Murray and Nadal, which the Scot eventually won 6-4, 5-7, 6-3. Hopes of that rematch at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex at Zayed Sports City were dashed after Nadal’s withdrawal with a stomach virus.
But should Murray get past world No9 Janko Tipsarevic, a final showdown with Djokovic is still on the cards to whet the appetite of those watching in Abu Dhabi.
But the Murray who will kick-off proceedings on Thursday is not the same player who wowed the UAE crowd in 2008. He is stronger, faster, and armed with confidence like he’s never had before now that he’s an Olympic and Grand Slam champion.
The 25-year-old says his exploits in 2012 have changed the way he feels about himself. “I find it easier to walk around with my head up, whereas, before I was always head down, not wanting anyone to see me or say anything,” says Murray, who comes to Abu Dhabi fresh off an intense training period in Miami.
“Maybe I felt that having lost in Grand Slam finals I was letting whoever it was down. I know I had been reminded every day for the last six years that it’s this long since someone from our country won a Slam.
“So there was part of me probably that felt a little bit of responsibility. It’s nice not to have worry about that anymore and see what else I can achieve. Since the Olympics I just feel a bit better about myself.”
Murray believes the MWTC can give him some much-needed preparation for the Australian Open, and is happy to commence his season in Abu Dhabi. He says: “It’s a good way to start the year. You’re practising against the best players in the world.
“The guys that played there the last few years have gone on to be very successful in Australia as well. So I think before you start playing tournaments, it just gives you a little bit of extra sharpness because you’re playing against the best pla-yers.”
Murray’s mother, Judy, feels his partnership with Ivan Lendl has brought massive benefits for the Scot, who has designs on the Australian Open as he bids for more Slam glory.
“He’s been a crucial factor in Andy’s improvement and success this year,” Judy said of Lendl, who won eight Grand Slam singles titles during his own playing career. “The wonderful thing about Ivan is that he’s very similar in character to Andy, not least they have the same awful sense of humour!
“But seriously, he’s very driven, very dedicated and he absolutely has his eyes on the prize. He knows what you have to go after and he knows that you have to be very single minded about going after it.
"He’s got a real sense of direction, a real toughness and he’s really helped Andy with the mental side of the game, about being able to reset if you suffer a disappointment, a bad call or a run of bad games. “That’s allowed him to play his best tennis for much longer periods of time.
“It’s been a significant year for him. It’s given him a lot of confidence. He’s worked even harder than before to go after another Slam in Australia.”
Meanwhile, defending champion Djokovic will look to repeat his success in Abu Dhabi. He capped off a fabulous 2012 by winning the ATP World Tour Finals and finishing the year as world No1 for the second time running.
“It’s great to end the year back at No1 in the world and to get my first ATP World Tour Finals win in London. But after a few weeks’ rest I’m looking forward to getting the new season off to a winning start again in Abu Dhabi,” said the Serb. “Winning the title there last year was the perfect preparation for my victory at the Australian Open in January.”
Australia will have to be Nadal’s goal after missing out in the capital. Knee trouble has plagued him since Wimbledon in June and he said: “My real goal is to start in perfect condition at Indian Wells and Miami and reach Monte-Carlo with good feelings, to face the clay season in good condition.”