Murray more poised on and off the court

 

TENNIS:ANDY MURRAY began the year's ATP Tour circuit like a man wealthy in personal qualities as well as in dollars. It was with almost oceanic calm that he strode to a straight-sets win over Albert Montanes, a competent top-50 Spaniard, and with quiet urbanity that he slipped away towards the twinkling skyscrapers which comprise this spectacularly developing oil-and-gas-generated city.

Murray could make himself almost €700,000 during the first nine days of 2009. More importantly, he suddenly looks older, stronger and more relaxed. Even more importantly, he appears to adopt that sort of perspective too.

For most of yesterday's 6-2, 6-4 first-round win in the Qatar Open he was so much in control, both of his game and his opponent, that it looked likely to be even more one-sided. The slight drift of concentration after wining 10 of the first 12 games was the only blemish.

"Yeah, I felt good," he said. "I think because of the matches last week (against Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in Abu Dhabi) it settled me down a little bit, and I felt I was hitting the ball well. Now when I go on the court I know what my mindset has to be and I just go out and play. There was no need to be nervous today."

Also marked was the developing potency of his first serve - the second got punished three or four times - and the dazzling variety of ways in which he won points. The last two points of the game that got him to 5-1 were an intricately fashioned approach finished with a strident volley, and an outrageous lob-drop combination.

Murray does not worry about defending his title.

"I'm just happy that I'm playing well. Last weekend meant that my level is where I would like it to be. And I've got two weeks now to get ready for the Australian Open. I'd like to play well here, but if that means winning the tournament or just making the semi-finals I don't mind."

His material assets are expanding as dramatically as his personal and technical ones, with his prizemoney total rapidly approaching €4 million at the age of 21. This may be contributing to his altered state. But it has only briefly been, he says, a distraction.

"I didn't think about it at all in the first two matches. I did a little in the final," he admitted of the winner-takes-all €190,000 Abu Dhabi final against Nadal.

"But it's not the sort of thing you think about when you're serving for the match.

"But you know, I'm playing a lot less tournaments than I planned to play before this year. I'm going to play 20 or 21 and make sure that I have rest time and make sure that I continue to work hard. If you start playing just for money and chasing it, it affects your game. And my game is more important to me than the money."

His attitude sounded reassuringly healthy, which it will need to be if he is to get the better of the big two when it really matters.

Nadal allowed one game only to Fabrice Santoro, the 36-year-old Frenchman who is in his final season; Federer conceded just four games to Potito Starace, Italy's world number 71. He was, Federer admitted, a little nervous, though it hardly showed. Heaven help the opposition when he isn't.