Andy Murray hopes for good support from the crowds at the o2 Arena as he begins his Barclays ATP World Tour Finals against Kei Nishikori.
‘The crowd has always given me very good support when I’ve played here and at Wimbledon and Queen’s,’ Murray said ahead of the eight-man season-ending championship. ‘I hope this week that’s the same. I’ll do my job, give my best effort regardless and hopefully win back some fans this week.’
Murray and Nishikori are scheduled on court in London at 2pm GMT as they contest the first singles match in what is sure to be a week of top-flight action.
In many ways, Murray has done well to even be competing at the o2 Arena after a torrid year following the emotion of capturing the Wimbledon title in 2013 and the back surgery which followed in the autumn.
The departure of coach Ivan Lendl did not help Murray to find his feet and although he hired Amelie Mauresmo in the summer, it is only in the past few weeks that things really seem to have come together for the British player. Slipping out of the top 10 and losing in the quarterfinals of the US Open, Murray abandoned his attempt to keep on scheduling like a top-five player and instead played a grueling, six-week schedule of tournaments in a bid to qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
It worked better than anybody dared to dream: Murray won three titles (his first since Wimbledon 2013) in the space of five weeks in Shenzen, Vienna and Valencia and by the time he bowed out of the Paris Masters in the quarterfinals, he had not only qualified for London but regained some much-needed confidence.
But has Murray paid too high a price? After six weeks of thoroughly draining tennis at a time when most top players are taking it easy, will he have the energy to compete at the World Tour Finals?
‘It’s always tough to judge until you’re out there on the match court,’ Murray said. ‘This week, the practises have been good. Winning matches is how you play yourself into form and that’s what I really needed to do at this stage of the year. It’s unusual that I played so many tournaments, but you get confidence by winning matches.
‘I’ll obviously try to finish in the Top 4 if I can. A few weeks ago it was about reaching Top 10 and “Will I make London?” I’d love to finish in the Top 4, but normally things in my career have finished quite gradually… It’s been a tough year in a lot of respects so I’ll try my best this week to try and get some good wins under my belt and see what happens.’
Drawn into a group with Roger Federer and Milos Raonic, Murray’s first opponent is world no. 5 Kei Nishikori, the first Asian-born man to qualify for the season-ending championships.
Murray leads the head-to-head with Nishikori 3-0 and has never dropped a set to the Japanese star, but they haven’t played so far in 2014 and 2014 is when Nishikori has really blossomed into a top player and a genuine threat to the sport’s biggest stars. A champion in Memphis, Barcelona, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo and a finalist in Madrid and at the US Open, Nishikori, too, has some questions over his fitness but is determined to make a splash on his o2 debut.
‘I want to win the whole thing,’ he said. ‘But it will be a tough tournament. If I can play good tennis for five matches, I will have a chance to win the whole thing. I just need to believe in myself. Next year, I want to be top 5 all the time and maybe rise to no. 3 or no. 2. I hope to reach a Grand Slam final again and win one of the Masters 1000s next year.’