From learning the art of paper cutting to staring at his own Terracotta Warrior, Andy Murray has been busy since arriving in Shanghai in preparation for the penultimate Masters 1000 event of the year.
In a city where he has won the title in each of the past two years, and with the glow of his first grand slam title still burning strong, the Scot will be confident of another strong run. Shanghai is the second in a five-event stretch that Murray is scheduled to play until the end of the season, beginning last week in Tokyo, where he reached the semi-finals, and ending at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Should he manage to pick up one or two titles along the way he will close the gap on the world's top two and has designs on the world No.1 spot, even if he admits his best chance of reaching the summit is likely to be early next year.
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"It'll be very, very difficult to finish the year ranked No.1," he said as he took time off from learning Jian Zhi, the Chinese art of paper cutting, at one of several pre-tournament functions. "I think Novak [Djokovic]'s not far off guaranteed that but I'll keep working hard and focus and hopefully have a chance next year."
Mathematically, the Scot still has an outside chance to finish on top but, realistically, he is right. The 25-year-old would probably need to win all four events, including five matches in London, to edge out Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Federer began his 299th week at the top yesterday and his late decision to play in Shanghai is testament to how much he wants to stay there. But the 31-year-old has a lot of ranking points to defend over the next few weeks while Djokovic has an almost clean slate. The Swiss believes that Murray has a strong chance to make it eventually but, even if the chances are that Djokovic will end up on top, Murray knows the importance of maintaining the momentum he created by winning the US Open so brilliantly last month.
That means taking his game up a notch from Tokyo, where he was edged out in the semi-finals by big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic. On the slower, grittier courts of Shanghai, where he feels right at home, he will expect to go close to another title. "I like it here," he said. "It's a nice city and it's a fun place to come, they look after us very, very well, the food and the facility is one of the best on Tour. I've always felt comfortable here."
Murray will be fine-tune his game today on the courts at the Qi Zhong Tennis Centre in the Minhang District, a 45-60 minute journey by road that can be a little on the hairy side, depending on the driver. But the Scot will also have one eye on the first match on Court 4, between Australia's Bernard Tomic and Florian Mayer of Germany, with the winner earning a shot at the No.3 seed tomorrow.
Murray is not the only British player in action in Shanghai this week as compatriot Colin Fleming and Englishman Ross Hutchins continue their outside bid to qualify for the season-ending finals in London. The pair currently lie 11th in the standings, three places away from a spot at the O2 but they know that it will take a big performance this week, and perhaps later this month in Paris, if they are to stand a chance.
Wimbledon doubles champion Jonny Marray, completing the British quartet in town this week, made it through to round two yesterday as he and Conrad Trent Huey of the Philippines edged out Mao-Xin Gong and Zhang Ze of China 7-5, 4-6, 10-6.