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Murray back ready for action

For Andy Murray, winning Wimbledon changed everything.

Ivan Lendl keeps a close eye on Andy Murray during a practice session in MelbournePhotograph: Getty
Ivan Lendl keeps a close eye on Andy Murray during a practice session in MelbournePhotograph: Getty

Not just his self-belief, which had already been bolstered by his Olympic gold medal and US Open success the previous year. But in dealing with the intense pressure of trying to win his home Grand Slam, the biggest title in the sport, and breaking a 77-year drought of British male champions, Murray gave himself something that few players have. Peace.

It is not that nothing matters from now on - it remains all about winning matches for the Scot - but rather he now knows beyond doubt that he can cope with whatever gets thrown at him.

"I feel like now I should be able to cope with anything, nerves or pressure, anything that I'll have to deal with on the tennis court," said Murray, who, after time out for back surgery, was fine-tuning his preparations for the Australian Open, which begins tomorrow.

"The one thing I haven't done since I've been a professional, the last few years, is to recover from surgery, and that's something that's completely different. There are different stresses and nerves. But once I get back to play matches again I wouldn't have thought I'd have too many problems dealing with nerves and pressure for the rest of my career.

"The nerves and pressure are actually good things in a lot of ways. I want to feel that way. It's just knowing that you're going to be able to deal with them that is obviously the nice thing."

It is hard to over-state the pressure Murray was under at Wimbledon, when his hand was shaking as he tried to serve out for victory in the final against Novak Djokovic. For years, the pressure of a nation was on his shoulders and even if he always made a point of saying he plays for himself, it was impossible not to feel it.

Now, with nothing to fear, it is possible the shackles could come off and Murray could begin to dominate, able to play without the weight of a nation's expectations.

"I've always played for myself but being able to win Wimbledon and the US Open, those major tournaments, meant a lot to me because I've worked extremely hard with those people [his team]," he said. "They've been with me for a long time, they've seen me fail on numerous occasions and they've always stuck by me, so it was nice to be able to share those moments with them. But when I go on court, I'll still be playing for myself first and foremost."

Even with only a couple of matches under his belt since returning from three months out, Murray knows he is capable of big things. He has spent most of the build-up to the year's first Grand Slam playing down his chances but a good early draw has given him the chance to find his feet.

A first-round match with Go Soeda, the world No 112 from Japan, should not be too much trouble and he then plays a qualifier in round two before a likely meeting with Spain's Feliciano Lopez. Beyond that could lie either Roger Federer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals and probably top seed Rafa Nadal in the semis.

Forecasters say temperatures are likely to be in the mid-to-high 30s for much of the week, conditions that will punish even the fittest of players.

"Going out in 40 degrees, you really feel it," Murray said. "The court surface gets roasting, your feet get really hot, your legs start to get tired early and burn, and then obviously with the sun in your face, it's so strong here that your skin's burning. It's not easy."

Murray has been working hard with his coach, Ivan Lendl, to get his body and mind ready for the challenge of another Grand Slam. The presence of Lendl, of course, has been pivotal in Murray's progression to become a Grand Slam winner (twice), so much so that Djokovic and Federer have followed his example.

Djokovic, a four-time winner in Australia, sprung a surprise by hiring Boris Becker at the end of last year while Federer will have Stefan Edberg in his camp for 10 weeks in 2014. It is a compliment to Murray but the Scot said the proof would lie in whether the players did the work required themselves.

"These guys are unbelievable players [Becker and Edberg] but the players need to put the work in," he said. "Doesn't matter who's coaching them or who's training them. You're the one who puts the right people in place, then it's really down to you and it's your responsibility."

The speed of the courts at Melbourne Park was a bone of contention last week with Nadal saying they were the fastest they have been, while Federer said they were only marginally faster.

Murray, typically, did his own research. "The court isn't any quicker and I spoke to Craig Tiley [the tournament director] about it," he said. "It's not faster at all."

That ought to be good news for Murray's chances after three finals in four years and he admits he is feeling comfortable right from the start.

"I like the hard courts here more than I do at the US Open, strangely, and I prefer the conditions here," he said. "The balls are a lot easier to control here.

At the US Open, the balls get harder to control the older they get whereas here, the older the balls get, it's a lot easier to control them. They slow down a bit. So I like the conditions here the most."

Nadal and Djokovic remain the outstanding favourites but if Murray gets into the second week without expending too much energy, he won't fear anyone.

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