And here's Neil Harman's take on things in The Times. Doesn't come across as being very optimistic
Australian Open can almost be considered a write-off for the Scot
Before we go any farther, Andy Murray can neither win the Australian Open nor should he feel obliged to pound multiple extra miles in the Davis Cup tie against the United States on the weekend after the championship. We should bite the bullet and prepare for a grand-slam event with no British contenders and accept that any idea of securing a World Group victory without him is illusory.
This is big-picture time. No doubt Murray would regard those opening statements as profoundly negative; whereas one would suggest that they are rooted in realism. Since his “minor” back operation in October, Murray has played three exhibition matches — the opening round of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open here was a 37-minute farce — one proper match in which he faded badly and may indulge in one exhibition in Melbourne next week before the year’s first grand-slam played in shocking heat on courts that sap and subdue.
Come on. Of course, being the champion he is, and having dealt for years with the madness of having to define himself by winning the greatest championship of them all, the Scot will not admit that he has no chance of glory on Rod Laver Arena, because a part of him believes that he can.
“I wouldn’t like to say whether I’d be happy reaching the second week, or whatever,” he said. “I’ll have to see how the next ten days or so go. You can get a lot done in that time.”
Yes, you can pound, you can prepare, you can practise, you can envisage — but when seven of two, three and four-hour matches in 90F (32C) furnaces are required, you need bags of stamina built up over a long period, competitive conviction and a sense of absolute freedom.
By about the time Murray comes to defend his Wimbledon title, that is when all things should be well. In between what we have is process. As he prepared for the long haul to Melbourne — where he has thrived in the recent past — Murray sat and talked through that “process”.
“I’m just saying I know that I’ve trained hard and physically I’ve done a lot of good work. But [losing to Florian Mayer in the second round] is a perfect example of how you can be the fittest guy in the world but if you don’t play matches, it’s completely different to anything we do in the gym.
“It would be unrealistic to expect to win the Australian Open, but I may start to feel better if I can get through a match or two.
“I felt quick on the court at the beginning. I hit the ball cleanly. I returned well. I returned very well in the doubles in both matches. It’s just getting, I guess, match stamina. Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to play four or five matches between now and Melbourne, which is a shame, but that’s the way it is. When I was over in Miami [at his training camp], I didn’t take more than one day off at a time and I trained for ten and a half weeks. So by the end of the block I was tired. And playing points and sets like I did [in Doha], that’s the hardest part of what we do.
“The points and stuff I got at the end of the training block weren’t particularly good because I was fatigued. Against Mayer that showed after a decent amount of time. Towards the end of the second set and the beginning of the third my intensity dropped a bit and you can’t do that.”
It was noticeable, too, that in the latter stages against Mayer and during changeovers in the doubles Murray plumped a roll of towels behind him to aid with posture. In the stands, Mark Bender, his back specialist, would have made special note.
“He [Bender] has been great through this rehab process,” the world No 4 said. “And in the next ten days or so, along with the rest of the guys taking on board what I say and how I’m feeling and what Mark is suggesting, it’s very important that everyone communicates properly just now. If they don’t, things can go wrong pretty quick.”
There will be no overt pampering on the way down to Australia; Murray may be a first-class player but he is not the kind of person to flaunt his good fortune. Business class will be good enough for him, as it always has been. Once he arrives, he will need to step up certain elements, for the court surfaces in Australia are said to be speedier than in recent years.
The look on his face indicated astonishment. “The courts do change a little bit from year to year — the US Open is the quickest slam and even the French is pretty fast. I would say the Australian is normally the slowest. I’d be surprised if it was changed too much."