Andy Murray cranks up 2015 schedule for assault on the rankings

Andy Murray looks to be gearing himself up for an assault on the rankings this year

Andy Murray’s 2015 schedule has already suggested that he is feeling fit, confident and ambitious after his difficult return to form from back surgery last season.

He played, and won, the high-quality Mubadala event in Abu Dhabi during the first three days of the year, beating Feliciano Lopez and Rafael Nadal. Then he headed to Perth for the Hopman Cup, where he also won all three of his singles matches and two of the three doubles matches he played with Heather Watson.

Now, Murray is preparing for the first Major of the year in Melbourne. He has been runner-up three times in the Australian Open and was a quarter-finalist there a year ago, but this time around, he is seeded outside the top four for the first time since he reached the final in 2011.

Murray is clearly set on remedying that situation as soon as possible, for while the first Masters of the year, the near-Grand-Slam-size Indian Wells in mid-March is the next tournament mentioned on his website’s schedule, he has already committed to the indoor 500 in Rotterdam and, this week, has announced his participation in the outdoor 500 in Dubai.

Rotterdam’s ABN AMRO event demands a quick switch of time zone and playing conditions: the Netherlands is 12 hours behind Melbourne and about 25C degrees cooler. It also throws in considerable competition: Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic, Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, and a clutch of other top-30 players, are scheduled to play.

Dubai takes Murray into reverse—a switch back to the hot outdoors—but also reveals a determined step into the lions’ den. The high-profile Dubai Duty Free always attracts the cream of the crop, despite competition from the new 500 hard-court tournament in Acapulco where Murray played last year. This year, it boasts defending champion Roger Federer and world No1 Novak Djokovic—along with Berdych and seven more top-30 players.

Murray has not played in Dubai since reaching the final—against Federer—in 2012, but he has used the tournament’s courts as his jumping off point for 2015 rather than his usual pre-season sojourn in Miami, and he did so with the streamlined coaching team that he revamped during the off-season.

That team is still headed by Amelie Mauresmo, along with, Murray admitted in The Independent, a sports psychologist, but for the first time in many years it will not include Dani Vallverdu and Jez Green, with whom Murray parted ways in November.

Murray’s next stop on the tour is likely to revert to chillier climes and back indoors for GB’s opening World Group Davis Cup tie against the USA in Glasgow.

And all that before heading to North America for the gruelling Indian Wells-Miami swing, where he parted company with Ivan Lendl last year.

So it’s an interesting back-and-forth schedule that will demand good form, considerable adaptability, and great physical condition—though his six-week, six-tournament run to three titles at the end of 2014 proved, if nothing else, that Murray does not lack the last element.

Murray has, though, been far from idle away from the tennis court since he made his exhausted exit from the ATP World Tour Finals.

As well as reshaping his coaching set-up, he became engaged to long-term girlfriend Kim Sears, negotiated a switch in clothing sponsor through his own management company, 77, and has just launched a personal logo—a la Federer, Nadal and Djokovic—that will get its first airing at the Australian Open.

A logo in itself suggests a certain confidence: It combines his initials with 77—a reference via his company’s name to the number of years Wimbledon waited for a Briton to win the men’s title. Murray claimed the accolade 77 years after the last, Fred Perry.

How quickly Murray can make his move up the rankings will become clearer in the aftermath of his run in Australia. At the top, Djokovic and Federer have a decent margin over the field. Nadal has, in the past, surged back from injury with renewed vigour, while world No4 Wawrinka made his breakthrough into the elite at this very tournament last year, and went on to end 2014 in great form, too.

Murray also has to contend with the Kei Nishikoris and Grigor Dimitrovs, a phalanx of younger players edging ever closer to the top four. Murray will hope, therefore, that the Melbourne draw is kind to him.

The Australian Open draw will be revealed tonight at around midnight GMT.

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