At last, Great Britain's long national nightmare is over.
Well, technically Andy Murray ended that with his Wimbledon victory last July, but the Scot has been sidelined for the past three months following back surgery. Thursday, Murray makes his long-awaited return in the exhibition Mubadala World Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi:
Boxing Day. Leftover turkey... and tennis. Andy Murray returns in Abu Dhabi exhibition vs Tsonga. Live on ESPN UK (Sky 417) at 3pm.— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) December 26, 2013
However, the tournament provides a premier field, with each of the world's top four players—Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Murray and David Ferrer—using it as an opportunity to tune up before the first major, the 2014 Australian Open.
Indeed, it is with Melbourne in mind that Murray decided to make his return at this event, according to The Independent's Paul Newman: “Everyone is looking for matches at the beginning of the year,” Murray said. “Before Grand Slams if you can make it as close as you can to what the top players like to play in, you are going to get strong fields. It's just good preparation.”
The 26-year-old will see a familiar foe in 10th-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Murray holds a commanding 8-2 head-to-head record against Tsonga, who lost his last match seven weeks ago at the BNP Paribas Masters to rising Japanese star Kei Nishikori.
Murray will likely have a tough time replicating that overall dominance Thursday, though Tsonga's respite from match play and his early exit at his last event still makes the Scot the favorite, per Kevin Jones of LiveTennisGuide.com:
The Scot, who had back surgery couple of months ago, he is looking very confident to return back to court. Murray is eyeing to lift the Mubadala World Tennis Championship title for third time in his career, as he won previous title in 2009.
The pair last meet at the 2013 Queens Club semi final and Murray won the match in three sets with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 score line. As per the predications, Murray is lookinghot favorite to clinch victory against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in three sets and advances into the Mubadala World Tennis Championship second round.
Though Murray won this tournament in 2009, he is unlikely to return with his form and fitness totally intact. Matches against some of the world's elite players should help him recapture that form more quickly, though.
His results following his breakthrough Wimbledon victory were not particularly impressive, as they included straight-set losses to Tomas Berdych in Cincinnati and to Stanislas Wawrinka at the U.S. Open.
Obviously, those names are nothing to sneeze at, but it's clear Murray's subpar results in his three post-Wimbledon tournaments (he also lost in the third round at the Rogers Cup) were likely a hangover. That is understandable, but removed from the game for so long, his drive should be renewed once again.
Per Sky Sports, the two-time major champion is brutally honest about his future prospects, but also determined to add to that tally:
I want to try and win as much as I can, I lost enough times in big matches to not want to do that.
I don't want to lose four slam finals in a row again; that was horrible.
But I also know how hard it is to win those tournaments. It may never happen again, I might not win another one but I just want to give myself the best chance to do that and that's why we do the work over here and train and prepare as best as we can.
Hopefully I'll give myself an opportunity to win another one.
How will Andy Murray fare at the Australian Open?
Murray is also scheduled to play another tournament in Qatar before Melbourne, and that should have a similarly star-studded field.
Provided his back is now 100 percent, a handful of matches should be enough for Murray to at least give himself a chance at his first Australian title. Look for Murray to be among the small handful of favorites to win the season's first major, and expect nothing less than a quarterfinal appearance down under.