World No 4 overcomes the Christmas crush to line up for Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
Andy Murray, the reigning Wimbledon champion, returns to competitive action in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship today. Julian Finney / Getty Images
Andy Murray, the reigning Wimbledon champion, returns to competitive action in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship today. Julian Finney / Getty Images

ABU DHABI // Given the site, timing and situation, it clearly ranks as a comprehensive test of his physical abilities.

Andy Murray, the reigning Wimbledon champion and the planet’s No 4-ranked player, tonight will play for the first time in three months, since undergoing back surgery, at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

The stacked field features six of the top 10.

But that is not the ticked box to which we are referring. The first daunting hurdle has already been cleared.

Earlier this week, Murray twice negotiated the rollicking hustle and bustle at one of the world’s most harrowing airports, Heathrow, during the mad, pre-holiday travelling crush.

And lived to talk about it.

“It was busy yesterday morning when I got in,” Murray said, laughing, before boarding his flight to the UAE. “But, actually, it was all right today.”

As it relates to the latter, he hopes to relay a similar report after playing the world No 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at 7pm tonight as first-round play begins at Zayed Sports City.

Facing the best field in the tournament’s six-year history – for the first time, the top four in the world are playing – the training wheels for the Scottish hero will fast be removed after his post-surgical lay-off. Murray spent the past few weeks in Miami, taking physician-ordered baby steps toward rehabilitation and recovery.

While the field this week surely merits attention, the health of the first Briton to win Wimbledon in 77 years is far and away the No 1 news hook. After having a procedure in mid-September to repair a sciatic issue that had bothered him for 18 months, he did not begin playing live points on the court until December 4.

He chuckled while admitting that he has adjusted his sights accordingly.

“I have pretty low expectations, playing against the best players in the world,” he said. “I’m pretty relaxed about the results. I am just hoping to be healthy and hope my body lasts over the course of the competition.”

After struggling with the back issue, that caused pain in a leg and hip, and forced him to skip the French Open, he opted for the surgical option, though he knew it would mean his season was over. It had become an inevitability.

“I needed to have a few things looked at because it had been giving me problems, up and down my leg, for a number of months,” he said. “It got to the point where I didn’t want to have to go another five, six years with that sort of pain and problems, so I decided to try to get it fixed.”

This week, where he is assured of playing in at least two matches, represents a running start as the Australian Open beckons in mid-January. He lost in the final there last year.

“I’ve still got a ways to go before I am playing my best tennis and ready for the new season,” he said. “But it’s been a good training session, I have had no major setback with my back, and hopefully that will be the case” this week. After being parked for three months, he is equal parts curious and anxious to see what he can muster and how his back responds.

“The movement and anticipation from matches, you are only going to get that from playing against the best players,” Murray said.

“They hit the ball a bit harder, they are quicker, smarter. So for me, this is going to be great, to get matches and an idea of where my game is at and where I need to improve.

“Because any weaknesses will show up on the court against the best players, who are going to exploit that. And I am expecting them to.”

selling@thenational.ae

Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE

Published: December 25, 2013 04:00 AM

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