World No1 Andy Murray is well aware Novak Djokovic will be breathing down his neck this season and considers the Serb the biggest threat to his assault on this month’s Australian Open and to his throne at the top of the ATP rankings.
Murray commences this season with a 630-point advantage over Djokovic in the standings and the two rivals could face off as early as this first week in the new year, with both of them in action at the Qatar Open in Doha.
Djokovic is the defending champion in the Qatari capital while Murray is a two-time winner but hasn’t competed here since 2014.
The top-seeded Scot opens his Doha journey against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy tomorrow and could potentially face Tomas Berdych or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals.
Murray warmed up for Doha with an appearance at Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship, where he lost to David Goffin in his semi-final before securing third place with victory over Milos Raonic on Saturday.
The Dunblane-native has lost four Australian Open finals to Djokovic throughout the years and will be hoping to finally climb over that last hurdle when he heads to Melbourne in two weeks’ time.
Asked whom he considers the greatest threat to his efforts Down Under, Murray said on Sunday: “I would say Novak. Obviously his record in Australia has been incredible. He’s won six times is it?
“Yeah, he’s had an amazing record there over the years and obvious won a number of finals against me, too. So I would expect him to play very well there.
“In terms of the No1 ranking, Novak would be (the biggest threat as well) – I had a great sort of four, five months at the end of last year and I still only got to No1 by one match basically at the end the year. So I know it will be very tough to stay there.”
Murray feels ready to begin his season and is not reading too much into his loss to Goffin last Friday in Abu Dhabi.
“I do think it’s always tough to judge sometimes, because the quality of the tennis is good but there is not like the pressure sort of in the outcome of, I don’t know, decisions you make on the court. Sometimes your shot selection maybe in those matches isn’t quite as good,” he explained.
“Sometimes guys are playing a little bit – I don’t know, taking a little bit more risks sometimes. It’s not always that easy to judge.
“But in terms of like my ball striking and stuff, I was hitting the ball pretty clean. I was happy with that. I think I could still move a little bit better.”
Will forever love the tennis geek in Murray. First thing he asks me as we sit down for a chat: Who won in Abu Dhabi? What was the score? :D— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 1, 2017
He had said in the UAE capital that he’s focusing on short-term goals – namely the Australian Open. Murray has three grand slam titles in his resume, two won at Wimbledon and one at the US Open.
Of the two majors missing from his trophy cabinet, which one is he more motivated to capture?
“To be honest, I mean, obviously I played very well in Australia before. Just hadn’t quite got there in the finals. So it’s a tournament that I would’ve loved to have won,” he responds.
“Whereas at the French it’s one that I never – until the last couple years didn’t see myself sort of winning. I think that would be a greater accomplishment for me, to win that event, just because it’s a surface that doesn’t come naturally to me (clay).
“I’ve struggled on it for large parts of my career, not just with the tactical/technical side, but physically with my back the clay was giving me a lot of problems a few years ago.
“So I think it would be a greater accomplishment to win the French Open because it’s just a surface that I never felt comfortable on when I was younger.”
Sunday’s action in Doha saw Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat qualify for the main draw thanks to a victory over Frenchman Vincent Millot. The world No199 faces Belgian wildcard Arthur de Greef in the first round today.
Second-seeded Djokovic and No4 seed Goffin are in singles action on Monday while Murray is playing doubles alongside Poland’s Mariusz Fyrstenberg.
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