Andy Murray ready to build on encouraging end to season, starting at MWTC in Abu Dhabi

In an exclusive interview with 'The National', the three-time Grand Slam champion discusses preparations for the new year, playing in Abu Dhabi, and plans to not lose his wedding ring again

It was the first round of the US Open and Andy Murray had been handed an unenviable draw. He arrived in New York City without any wins over the sort of top-tier players he would routinely trounce before career-threatening hip injuries derailed his time at the pinnacle of men's tennis.

The long and gruelling grind to rediscover the excellence that guided Murray to three Grand Slam titles had been set back further by a three-month groin injury absence, not to mention missing the Australian summer at the start of the year after testing positive for Covid-19.

Minimal match time and a lack of sharpness are hardly ideal preparation when facing the third-highest ranked player in the world, but the first set was vintage Murray as he proceeded to dismantle Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Greek player levelled by taking the second set in a tie-break, but Murray fought back to take the third and unleashed an enormous roar: “I'm not done yet! Let's go! Let's go!”

Murray would lose the match in five sets as that lack of match fitness was eventually exposed, but he was right about one thing: he is not done yet.

Following the US Open, the Murray game continued to trend in the right direction and he started to secure significant wins against significant opponents. There was the victory at Indian Wells over Spanish youngster Carlos Alcaraz, who would go on to clinch the Next Gen ATP Finals title; there was the third-time lucky win against then world No 10 Hubert Hurkacz having twice lost to the Pole in the weeks prior; and then there was the routine triumph over top-10 Italian Jannick Sinner.

Given all the disruption in 2021, the end of the season came at an inopportune time for Murray, just as he was finding some rhythm.

“I definitely felt I’d made some significant improvements as we moved towards the end of the season,” Murray, 34, told The National. “It highlights how important getting match play is when you are coming back from an injury or a long stretch of time out.

“There are still things I need to work on, and we’ll be doing that in the off season, but I was pleased with how I ended the year.”

Murray wasn't the only one pleased. The former world No 1, who currently sits 133 places lower than that, has always been popular among the fans but there seemed to be an additional swell of support for the Scot last season, and it has not gone unnoticed.

“I’m always so grateful to the fans for their support,” Murray said. “I know I’m not always the easiest player to watch!”

He has certainly been easy to watch at the Olympics over the years. While Murray's accomplishments — 14th on the all-time list of ATP titles with 46, fifth for most Masters titles with 14, the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years — have been somewhat overshadowed by the ludicrous feats of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic, the Scot stands apart at the Games.

Murray is the only man to twice win Olympic singles gold, which he achieved in successive Games at London 2012 and Rio 2016. Defending his title in Tokyo was always going to be a tough ask and he withdrew on the eve of his first round match with a thigh injury, although he did compete in the doubles and reached with quarter-finals with Joe Salisbury.

Andy Murray is the only male player to win two Olympic singles gold medals. PA

Murray didn't leave Japan completely empty-handed. Each Olympics he swaps national flag pins with athletes from other countries and after four Games, he has built up quite a collection. “My pin collection is amazing,” he said. “It’s one of the best things about the Olympics!”

That was all last season, though, and the focus is very much on next. Before making his way Down Under for next month's Australian Open, Murray will continue his pre-season with a sixth appearance at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) in Abu Dhabi, starting on Thursday.

Murray was the inaugural MWTC champion in 2009 and won the title again in 2015 and believes the Abu Dhabi tournament will help him adapt for Australia.

“At this time of year, I usually do a block of warm weather training, but this year we took the decision to do most of the off season in the UK, which means playing indoors,” he said. “Being able to play at Mubadala is great preparation for Australia. It allows me more on court time, and I’m ready to put into play some of the things we’ve been working on over the last few weeks.”

As he prepares for his 17th season as a professional tennis player, there isn't much left that can faze Murray. He's played in the biggest matches on the grandest stages, handled the highest levels of pressure, and spent around half his life in the public eye.

However, if there is one thing that could give him the jitters, it's a repeat of wedding ring-gate. After a practice session at Indian Wells in October, Murray left his shoes — with the ring tied to the laces — outside to dry, only for them to go missing. Fortunately, the shoes and ring were handed in to lost property but not before Murray got a ticking off from wife Kim.

Murray admitted it wasn't the first time he had carelessly misplaced his wedding ring, so has he devised a plan from it happening again? More spare shoes? Replicas in case the original disappears again? Adding a ring-bearer to his coaching staff?

“Ha ha! I was pretty nervous about telling Kim I’d lost my wedding ring once,” he replied. “I think that’s enough of a deterrent to stop me losing it again!”

Updated: December 15th 2021, 4:02 AM