Former world No. 1 Andy Murray made a surprise appearance at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Thursday, where he hit the practice courts in preparation for his long-awaited return to the tour.
Murray hasn't played a match since his Wimbledon quarter-final exit at the hands of Sam Querrey. The three-time Grand Slam champion has been out of action nursing a hip injury and fans flocked to the stands by the practice court at Zayed Sports City to see how well the Brit is moving.
The 30-year-old is scheduled to compete at the Brisbane International, which begins on Sunday.
During a practice session that lasted nearly an hour and a half, Murray hit serves, forehands, backhands, ran down drop shots, and worked on his passing shots -- among other things -- joined on court by his coach Jamie Delgado, his fitness trainer Matt Little and another member of his team.
Murray is likely to stay here in Abu Dhabi for two more days where he'll get the opportunity to practice with the likes of Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 28, 2017
Andy Murray will step-up his preparations for the 2018 season by conducting a training block at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
The Scot, who is only practicing and not competing in Abu Dhabi, will take to the courts at the Zayed Sports City venue to fine-tune his off-season before travelling to Australia.
It is still unclear, however, just when Murray will be ready to return to the match court proper and a decision is still to be made over his participation in the upcoming Brisbane International event.
For Murray and his team, though, the ultimate goal is for him to be in the best possible shape ahead of the Australian Open, beginning on January 15.
Murray, a three-time Grand Slam winner, has not played a competitive match since a five-set defeat to American Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last July.
Since then, the 30-year-old has had to contend with a nagging right hip problem.
The Brit will have the chance to hit with the likes of Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem in the UAE capital.
Dominic Thiem admits he suffered a “breakdown” in confidence following last year’s US Open but the world No. 5 comes to Abu Dhabi for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship with restored self-belief after a solid preseason training block.
The 24-year-old Austrian, who makes his Abu Dhabi debut on Friday against either Pablo Carreno Busta or Kevin Anderson, will be looking to rebound from a dip in form he experienced at the end of 2017, when he takes to the court at Zayed Sports City this weekend.
Thiem had squandered a two-sets-to-love lead against an ailing Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open fourth round to crash out of the tournament last September. He won just three out of 10 tour matches after that, and concedes that New York defeat stayed with him.
Thiem, a two-time French Open semi-finalist, has been one of the standout players from the younger generation and has been able to challenge the so-called ‘Big Four’ but he has a reputation of overplaying, and running out of steam towards the tail-end of the year.
Is that something he hopes to avoid in 2018?
“I want this for sure but actually I felt really fine (physically) at the end of the (2017) season. There was this tough loss against Del Potro which for sure gave me a little bit a breakdown for some weeks,” Thiem told Sport360.
“I think I lost all three-set matches (after that) besides the match in London, so that was not very good for my confidence – I need confidence to play good tennis. It was completely lost actually at the end of the season and for me it’s also tougher to get it back indoors or on faster surfaces.
“It was also a little bit unlucky so I hope it’s a bit different next year and of course I also try to improve indoors and on faster surfaces.”
The eight-time ATP titlist believes he has regained his confidence now after a strong few weeks of training in the offseason and is ready to take on the field in Abu Dhabi, before officially kicking off his season in Doha next week.
“I got it back now for sure because I think it’s nice that the whole tour stopped, you don’t have to worry about any results or that somebody can overtake you. I practiced very well so I got back a lot of confidence,” he added.
“It can be one of two matches and everything comes back again but those one or two matches just didn’t happen when I needed them at the end of last season and yeah I hope and I think that it’s going to happen next year.”
Thiem is in Abu Dhabi with Spanish coach Galo Blanco, who ended a four-year partnership with Karen Khachanov last month.
Thiem had a phenomenal clay-court season in 2017, where he stood out as the main rival against a dominant Rafael Nadal. The pair faced off in four tournaments back-to-back — in the finals of Barcelona and Madrid, the quarters in Rome and the semis at Roland Garros, with Nadal winning three of those showdowns.
“It was really nice to play him four times, I think it was great, almost four tournaments in a row. For sure I hope that it’s the same this year because if I play him on clay that means that I go deep in the tournaments,” said Thiem of his rivalry with the world No. 1.
“He will go for sure deep anyway because he’s Rafa but I have to watch out that I can maybe repeat it. It was a really great clay-court season, there I was putting the base for all the good ranking, for all the London thing and everything so of course I try to play as successful as I did.”
Thiem ended the year in the top-five for the first time and says he hopes to go a step further at the majors, after making back-to-back semis in Paris. The Austrian and Alexander Zverev separated themselves from other younger players, but at the Slams, all four titles were split between Nadal and Roger Federer. Thiem says 2018 could be the year players from his generation can finally steal away a major trophy from the hands of the ‘Big Four’.
“I think we should. The Masters 1000 we did already last year with Sascha’s (Zverev’s) two titles, and also the other tournaments. But the majors, Rafa and Roger were just too strong and I think this you have to accept. But at one point you have to also make a breakthrough at the majors and I think 2018 is the time for it,” said Thiem.
He featured in the ATP Finals in London for a second time last month and explained how he now feels like he belongs among the world’s elite players.
“I mean last year everything was completely new. I was very tight in all matches and then also of course it was a bit weird to be part of all this. Of course like every player I watched it on TV when I was 15, 16 years old in London and then all of a sudden I was there by myself competing, which was very new, so it was way easier this year and also more enjoyable I guess,” he said of his ATP Finals experience.