Thursday 21 November 2019

Heat is on for Murray ahead of Australian adventure

Andy Murray poses with the trophy after winning the the Mubadala World Tennis Championship at Zayed Sport City in Abu Dhabi following the withdrawal of Serbia's Novak Djokovic due to injury. Photo: Francois Nel/Getty Images
Andy Murray poses with the trophy after winning the the Mubadala World Tennis Championship at Zayed Sport City in Abu Dhabi following the withdrawal of Serbia's Novak Djokovic due to injury. Photo: Francois Nel/Getty Images

Paul Newman

Welcome to the furnace. A blazing start to the year is nothing new Down Under, but the conditions here this week at the Hopman Cup look likely to be especially testing.

British duo Andy Murray and Heather Watson make their entrance in the mixed team event today, when the temperature is forecast to peak at a scorching 41C.

Eugenie Bouchard, beaten 6-0, 6-4 by Lucie Safarova, was among those who struggled on yesterday's official opening day of the season as the temperature hit 36C; Murray and Watson will be grateful for the retractable roof over the Perth Arena. The court can be covered in extreme conditions.

A late start should also help. The Britons' meeting with the French team of Benoit Paire and Alize Cornet - each match consists of a men's singles, a women's singles and a mixed doubles if needed - is not due to start before 5.30pm (9.30am GMT) today.

Playing in extreme heat can be a brutal experience but it will at least give the players a chance to experience conditions they will probably have to cope with when the Australian Open starts a fortnight today.

"If anything it's going to help me for Melbourne," Serena Williams said ahead of her morning match against Italy's Flavia Pennetta.

"Perth is one of the hottest places I've ever played, so it will be really good for the preparation in Melbourne, which is always super-hot."

For the last three years Murray has competed either in Doha or Brisbane in the first week of the season.

The world No 6 is the highest-ranked man here this week, which is evident from posters all over the city.

Novak Djokovic, who is playing an official tournament in the build-up to the Australian Open for the first time since 2009, and Rafael Nadal head this week's field in Doha, while Roger Federer is the top seed in Brisbane.

Although the Hopman Cup is classified as an exhibition event and does not carry ranking points, the format helps to provide a competitive edge and guarantees every player at least three singles matches.

The eight teams are split into two round-robin groups of four, with Poland (Jerzy Janowicz and Agnieszka Radwanska) and Australia (Matt Ebden and Casey Dellacqua) being Britain's other opponents.

Murray will have precious little time to adjust to the conditions, having been due to arrive only last night from Abu Dhabi, where he won the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition event.

Having beaten Feliciano Lopez and Nadal in his first two matches, Murray was due to play Djokovic in Saturday's final, but his opponent pulled out with a fever.


Earlier it had appeared possible that Murray might be the one to withdraw after suffering pain in his left shoulder towards the end of his victory over Nadal.

The Scot went for an ultrasound scan and was relieved to learn there was no evidence of any damage, though he still felt sore. Tournament organisers here will be keeping their fingers crossed.

Watson is making her Hopman Cup debut. In his previous appearances at the tournament, in 2010 and 2011, Murray partnered Laura Robson, who is continuing her recovery from wrist surgery.

Watson, who has won three doubles titles on the main women's tour, said she had never even practised with Murray before. "I'm excited, but I'm a bit nervous as well," she admitted. "I think Andy's a great doubles player, whoever he plays with. He's so good at everything he does. He hits great volleys, even though he doesn't volley a lot in his singles matches. He has great hands. Any balls that go anywhere near him I'll just say, 'Yours'."

Watson loves playing in Australia, which is more than can be said for the host country's best female player of recent years.

Sam Stosur, a former US Open champion and French Open finalist, added to her horrendous record in her home country when she was beaten 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 by Varvara Lepchenko in the first round in Brisbane. Stosur had a match point when leading 5-1 in the deciding set. Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic are the top seeds in Brisbane this week. Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova head the field in Shenzhen, while Caroline Wozniacki and Sara Errani top the bill in Auckland.

Perth, nevertheless, beats all of them, with five of the world's top 16 women - Williams, Radwanska, Bouchard, Pennetta and Safarova - in the line-up.

Jamie Murray got his season off to a good start in Brisbane in partnership with John Peers. The Scot and the Australian beat the world's sixth-ranked doubles pair, Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, 6-3, 6-4. (© Independent News Service)

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