Andy Murray's participation in the Hopman Cup in January shows a change to his normal preparation for the Australian Open. Last year, Murray chose Doha as his warm up event and he managed to take the title.
The Hopman Cup consists of two groups of four teams with the winner of each group playing in the final. Each team is made up of a male and female member and the ties are played over three matches, a singles match for each player and a mixed doubles.
Murray is playing along side Laura Robson who famously in 2008 was the second youngest winner of the girl's junior title at Wimbledon, only Martina Hingis was younger when winning the title in 1994.
The groups have already been drawn and Murray and Robson are in the same group as Russia, Germany and Kazakhstan. Apart from Murray, of these groups, Germany have the highest ranked male player with Kohlschreiber being ranked 27 in the world. The task for 15-year-old Robson looks a lot tougher as she will face players ranked 5, 23 & 53 respectively. Murray has only played one of his opponents before when defeating Golubev of Kazakhstan 6-1 6-1 in the final of St Petersburg in 2008. The second group consists of Australia, USA, Spain and Romania.
Murray has always underachieved in Melbourne and maybe Safin & Djokovic winning the Australian open in 2005 & 2008 after playing the Hopman Cup influenced his decision to take part.
The Hopman Cup begins in Perth on the 2nd of January and team GB's first match is against Kazakhstan on the 4th where they then go on to play Germany on the 6th and Russia on the 8th. The final, should they make it, will be played on the 9th of January .
The format guarantees Murray plays at least 3 singles matches and 3 doubles matches and with the temperatures in Perth being higher than Doha and Melbourne it will represent a good opportunity for Murray to acclimatise to the heat of Melbourne.
Although Robson always raises her game the greater the challenge, like she did in her 3 set defeat by Hantuchova at Wimbledon this year and in losing a 3rd set tie break in the final qualifying round at the US open, it would look likely that their ties will be decided by the mixed doubles. However, when it comes to Robson one tends to think of 'maybe' or 'possible' rather than 'no' or 'never'.
If the result does depend on the doubles, Murray needs to take charge and play aggressively, especially on his returns - a too passive return may leave his younger partner open to some big hitting. Murray absorbs and deals with those types of shots very well but he should not expect Robson to do so. However, if Murray can extract weaker replies from the opposition there is no question of a doubt that Robson can step in and hit winners.