It is four years since Andy Murray left the Australian Open seemingly on the verge of retirement due to his chronic right hip injury. Since then the Scot has been through more downs than ups when it comes to the Grand Slams.

Since his remarkable comeback following the insertion of a metal hip, the three-time Grand Slam champion has not made it past the third round of any of the four majors, a combination of tough draws and physical problems contributing to his struggles, much to his annoyance.

That feeling would not have been helped by Thursday’s draw, which saw his name come out alongside the No.13 seed, Matteo Berrettini, the former Wimbledon runner-up.

But at Melbourne Park yesterday, there was a genuine air of confidence and optimism as the 35-year-old contemplated what will be his 15th Australian Open, an event in which he has reached the final five times.

Not just because he arrives in Melbourne having worked his way back inside the world’s top 50, but because he goes into the event with no worries about fitness, health or injury. 

“Obviously it is a tough, tough draw,” said Murray, who lost to Berrettini in a four-set battle at the US Open last year. “But I also feel like I’m in a much better place than where I was during any of the slams last year.

“Coming in to it, I feel well prepared. I feel ready to play a top player early in the event, whereas maybe last year, my game didn’t feel great and getting a difficult draw, tough match early in the tournament, it didn’t feel great. I feel like I’m in a better place this time to do that.

“I know how I feel today and comparisons of myself going into the US Open. I’m playing better, physically I’m in a better place.” 

Murray’s only win in four meetings with Berrettini came in Beijing 2019. Since then he has found the Italian too tough at Queen’s, Stuttgart and New York. Since that last defeat, however, Murray feels he has improved. 

“[I have made] some changes to my game, [had] a good period of practice,” he said. “It gave me some time to work on some things and improve some things. I got a lot of work done away from the court as well in the gym. 

“Physically, in the matches that I have played, whether that was the matches in Kooyong or in Adelaide or when we played up in Scotland, my movement and stuff was significantly better than what it would have been at this stage last year. 

“When I move well, I tend to play well. It’s really important for me and that’s probably been the thing I’ve been happiest about since I got here. The conditions are playing pretty fast here so when the conditions are quick, it is even more important to be light on your feet and, you know, moving well. So I think that’s been the biggest improvement.”

It is 13 years since Murray reached the final here for the first time, losing to Roger Federer. But the Scot is determined not to look back, instead believing that he can improve.

“I don’t feel like right now is a time for reflection for me,” he said. “I’m looking to the future, however long that is left. I’ve got to focus on how I can get the best out of my game and my body and try and achieve the best results possible.”

While Murray continues to strive for improvement, two other golden oldies will take centre stage in the men’s draw, with Rafael Nadal defending his title and Novak Djokovic trying to win it for a record 10th time.

Nadal admits he is vulnerable after six defeats in seven matches, dating back to the US Open. The 36-year-old, who last year won the title with a dramatic win over Daniil Medvedev from two sets down, takes on rising Briton Jack Draper in round one.

“It’s probably one of the toughest first rounds possible, being seeded,” Nadal said. “Young, powerful, growing very, very fast on the ranking, playing well, a big challenge for me at the beginning to start the tournament.”

Djokovic, meanwhile, goes into the event full of confidence, despite nursing a tight hamstring. With world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz missing through injury, the Serb is favourite and has a point to prove after last year’s deportation over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

And yet the 35-year-old, who last year won the season-ending ATP Finals for a record-equalling sixth time, says he holds no grudge. 
“If I did hold grudges, probably I would not be able to move on, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.