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Andy Murray back in training to avoid spring slump

By Paul Newman

The treadmill does not stop for Novak Djokovic. Within hours of his victory over Andy Murray in the Australian Open on Sunday the world No 1 was flying back to Europe. On Friday he will be playing on an indoor clay court in Belgium for Serbia in the Davis Cup. After a few days' rest he will then head for an outdoor hard-court tournament in Dubai.

For Murray, the next five weeks will be an opportunity for a more considered approach to his work. For the first time since he made his debut here seven years ago the Scot does not plan to play in any tournaments between the Australian Open and the back-to-back Masters Series tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami next month.

Not that Murray will be enjoying some winter sun or chilling out at home. Most of his time before Indian Wells will be spent on the practice court with his coach, Ivan Lendl, in Miami, which has become the world No 3's second home.

In past years after giving his all in Melbourne at the season's opening Grand Slam tournament – where he has lost in the final three times in the past four years (he reached the semi-finals on the other occasion) – Murray has sometimes gone into a spring-time slump. He is determined to avoid that happening again.

"My next goal is to try and play good tennis in Indian Wells and Miami," Murray said in the wake of his fifth defeat in his six Grand Slam finals. "I've realised in the last year or so that when I set myself short-term goals I tend to play better tennis that way. Previously after every Slam I would look way ahead to the next one and kind of take my eye off the ball with the other events, so that's the immediate goal.

"I'll also think slightly about the French Open. It's a tournament I'm capable of doing well in, but for me it takes a lot of practice, a lot of hours on clay to get used to it. That's a major goal for me, but I've got to do well in the next few months."

Between the Miami Masters, which finishes at the end of March, and the start of the clay-court season in Monte Carlo in April, Britain have a home Davis Cup tie against Russia. Murray has yet to make a decision on whether he will make himself available but said he would be discussing the tie with Leon Smith, Britain's Davis Cup captain, in the coming weeks.

Chasing the world No 1 ranking remains a target for Murray, who closed the gap between himself and Djokovic and Roger Federer, the two men above him, with his run to the final here. The next five months give Murray a chance of topping the rankings, which are calculated on a rolling 12-month basis. The period between the Australian Open and Wimbledon was a comparatively lean one for Murray last year, which means that he could make up plenty of ground this time around, particularly on clay.

Murray's current total of 8,480 rankings points is still 4,440 behind Djokovic's, but with 1,000 points awarded to winners of Masters Series tournaments (of which there are five between now and Wimbledon) and 2,000 to Grand Slam champions the situation could quickly change

"I obviously didn't do particularly well on the clay until the French last year and Indian Wells wasn't good either, so there's obviously potential to pick up points and improve my ranking," Murray said. "It's tough. If I had won here I would have had two Slams, a Wimbledon final and Olympic gold [in my ranking points total] and still been well behind Novak. With his consistency just now and with Rafa [Nadal] coming back, it's going to get tougher. I'll need to do well the next few months and not play badly, especially in the Masters Series."

What aspect of his game will he work on over the next few weeks given his performance in the final? "I'll have a think about why I maybe didn't create as many chances on the return as I've done in the past. I'll look at that. But the way I was striking the ball was fine. My tactics were right. I just didn't give myself enough opportunities on his serve."

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