• What The Deuce

Chance for Murray to test drive his game in Dubai

Jo Carter February 28, 2012
Andy Murray has been working with Ivan Lendl since January © PA Photos

Andy Murray makes his first appearance since the Australian Open this week, and he will have the opportunity to put theory into practice in Dubai after a month on the training courts.

On results alone, Murray's Australian Open performance was his worst since 2009, when he reached the fourth round.

Having reached the final in the previous two years, Murray fell in the semi-finals to world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic. But such was the nature of Murray's defeat; it felt like new coach Ivan Lendl was already making an impression.

Having only linked up with Murray in the New Year, it was too late for Lendl, a former world No. 1 and eight-time grand slam champion, to work on the technical aspects of his new charge's game before the first grand slam of the season.

While Lendl will not be in Murray's box in Dubai this week - he is playing on the ATP Champions Tour in Florida this week, the Scot is likely to be showing the results of ten hard days on the practice courts.

"I was up at seven each morning and going to bed at 9:30 each night because I was so tired," Murray said. "We did a lot of long, hard drills. I was spending about four hours on the court each day with various hitting partners."

Technically, Murray is one of the most gifted players of his generation, but it has been his mental approach that has been found wanting. During his defeat to Djokovic in Melbourne the Brit showed signs of a calmer approach, and we can expect to see more of that in the coming weeks.

This week is a chance for Murray to show that he is not suffering another Melbourne hangover.

Murray struggled on the American hard courts last spring © PA Photos

Back in 2009, Murray was dumped out of the Australian Open fourth round, but went on to win titles in Rotterdam and Miami, as well as reaching the final in Indian Wells. However, after reaching the final in Melbourne in 2010, he was upset by then world No. 39 Janko Tipsarevic in Dubai, reached the quarter-finals in California before being dumped out of Miami (where he was the defending champion) by Mardy Fish, who at the time was ranked outside of the world's top 100.

Last year the Melbourne hangover was even worse, the Scot failing to win a single set in three opening-round defeats - firstly to Marcos Baghdatis in Rotterdam, then to world No. 143 Donald Young in Indian Wells and No. 119 Alex Bogomolov Jr at Key Biscayne.

The long and short of it means Murray has just 20 ranking points to defend in the coming months. Unless he withdraws from any of the three tournaments he is scheduled to play - Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami - he cannot walk away from the spring hard-court season with fewer points than he started with.

With three tournaments on outdoor hard courts - surfaces perfectly suited to his game - Murray could pick up an extra 2580 points before the clay court season gets underway in April.

Federer has 720 points to defend, Nadal has a not insignificant 1200, while Djokovic has 2000 points to defend. Such was his dominance in 2011 that Djokovic's position at the top of the pile is safe for some time to come, but Murray is likely to have his sights on the No. 3 spot at the very least.

Short of picking up an injury, the Scot can afford to use the coming weeks as an opportunity to show just how much he has progressed, not just since last year, but since the start of 2012.

Worst case scenario is he suffers another major hangover and struggles to get his season back on track. Not ideal, admittedly, but world No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is so far behind that the Scot's place in the top four is all-but secure. A top-four ranking is crucial for Murray as it means he avoids the big three until the semi-finals at the grand slams.

At best, he picks up a few new shiny trophies and boosts his ranking points (and his bank balance), but even more importantly he has the chance to test drive his new game against the world's best.

Murray has nothing to lose and everything to gain in Dubai this week. He can afford to play with freedom and really gauge if (and by how much) he has progressed.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk