Andy Murray in a 'good place' with rivals in his sights
Andy Murray returns to action this week for the first time since his defeat in the Australia Open final in January believing he is in a "good place".
The Scot has spent the month since losing to Novak Djokovic at his training base in Florida before flying to California, where he joins Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells – the first time the big four have all played in one tournament since Wimbledon last year. It marks the start of an intense period for Murray as it is followed by the Sony Open, near his Florida home, and then a return to Europe for the start of the clay-court season that leads to the French Open in May.
"Preparation and consistency are key for me this year and I'm going into every tournament I play with the aim of winning it," said Murray. "I'm in a good place right now."
If Murray can construct a run of form in the coming weeks, he can replace Federer as the world No 2 and continue a rise he traces back to last year's Australian Open – and another defeat at the hands of Djokovic – this time in the semi-final.
"I learned a lot in the Australian Open last year," said Murray. "I had a great match with Djokovic, it was 7-5 in the fifth set, that was five hours nearly. I lost but I had chances and it came down to the last few points. I gained a lot of belief from that. I knew that I could last physically with him and I also dictated long periods of the match. It was nice to come off the court in a big match not really having any regrets, and I think that changed a few things."
That first Grand Slam victory finally arrived at the US Open last year but not before Murray had to overcome off-the-court doubts that troubled him almost as much as the relentless Djokovic did on it.
"Before the US Open final was the most nervous I'd been before a big match in my career," said Murray, who had lost all four of his previous Grand Slam finals. "I was doubting myself a lot. You're asking a lot of questions about whether you're going to be able to do it, playing against the No 1 player in the world, someone that's been so great on the hard courts the last few years.
"I think it's only natural to have doubts and every time I've lost in a final it's been incredibly tough."
The growing influence of his coach, Ivan Lendl, over the course of last year was also vital towards hardening a mindset that the first Slam would come. "To have someone like Ivan come along, who's lost his first four Grand Slam finals, and I was in the same position as him – just having someone like him to talk to and discus those feelings," said Murray, who has been nominated for Breakthrough of the Year at next week's Laureus awards. "There's times when you doubt yourself and think that you're a failure for losing matches like that, but you know he went on to win eight Grand Slams and to have someone with that experience in your corner has definitely helped."
The US Open triumph over Djokovic, squeezed from five epic sets, followed Murray's Olympic gold at Wimbledon. New York may have brought a first Slam but the 25-year-old Scot – seven days Djokovic's senior – still puts that win at home as his own highlight.
"The Olympics was different to anything I had experienced. I might have to take that [before the US Open] after I lost in the Wimbledon final four weeks beforehand against Roger Federer. It was an incredibly tough moment for me that. And then to get the opportunity to play against him – four weeks to the day – on the same court and to win a gold medal for the country was something I'll never forget."
Andy Murray is one of the nominees for the Laureus World Breakthrough of the Year Award. The winners will be announced on 11 March at the Laureus Awards Ceremony in Rio. For more information please visit: www.laureus.com
Belfast Telegraph Digital