Andy Murray eyes Aus Open title

When Andy Murray left Melbourne last year as the Australian Open runner-up, it seemed that the Scot's maiden major title was inevitable. Eventually, anyway. But in the 11 months since, Murray's Wimbledon semi-final loss to Rafael Nadal ranks as his best grand slam result. A question of time is now regarded as a matter of some doubt.

''I don't mind,'' insisted Murray, the world No.4, before his opening Hopman Cup match against Italy's Potito Starace. ''I want to win a slam. It is obviously something I am working on. That is why I went to Miami [to train] in December, where you're away from your family and stuff. That is why you do it.

''If I don't win a grand slam, then that is unfortunate. I'd be disappointed, but I'm giving it my best shot. That is what I'm working towards so it is not something that makes me worry at night or panic. If I don't win, I am not good enough, and if I win one, I'm good enough. Hopefully, I'll win one this year.''

To that end, Murray has eschewed the riches of the Middle East to return to the Hopman Cup, thus replicating the preparation that led to his second slam final against Roger Federer last January. After again spending the off-season in the Miami heat, the 23-year-old believes an early arrival maximises his chances of Melbourne Park success.

Confident he can compete with both Federer and world No.1 Nadal from the back of the court, Murray has hit fewer balls in the short off-season than last year, while concentrating on improving his serve and return in particular. Weight training has been limited; not so the time spent running on the track and the beach.

''I think this will be a good gauge here to see where my game's at and what I'm going to need to work on for each of the matches here and getting ready for the Aussie [Open],'' he said.

Murray will again partner 16-year-old Laura Robson, with whom he reached the Hopman final last year, playing four singles and four mixed doubles matches in a productive week. On the off-days, Murray practises outdoors in the fierce Perth heat that reached 40 degrees yesterday.

''I think that makes a huge difference going into the Australian Open, and that's why I decided to do it again, because I'd played in Doha a few times and played well there, but then come over and not been used to the conditions, and not played that well at the Aussie Open, so that's why I came over again early,'' he said.

''Obviously I'd like to do a little bit better than I did last year, but this tournament for me last year was perfect preparation for the Aussie Open … last year's Aussie Open was one of the best events I've played in my life. I played some of my best tennis, so I'll have to play even better if I want to win, because Rafa and Roger are playing so well just now.''

It is the post-Australian period that Murray will attempt to rectify next. He attributes his stretch of poor pre-Wimbledon results to inexperience, and plans to adjust his training schedule accordingly to avoid a repeat of the slump that followed.

Still, other than a dreadful third-round loss to Stanislas Wawrinka at the US Open - his earliest in a major for two years - Murray's run home was more fruitful, delivering big Masters 1000 titles in Toronto and Shanghai and a gallant third-set tie-breaker loss to world No.1 Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour finals in London.

''I think both of us played a really high standard, and it was a good way in many ways to finish the year,'' Murray said. ''It would have been great to have won the match, but at the same time, having lost I could go away and realise that I played a great match but I still need to get better if I want to beat Rafa and Roger in the slams. And that's hopefully what I've been able to do.''

- Linda Pearce for smh.com.au
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