World number one, Andy Murray has admitted that his exertions in the final phase of last season may have been responsible for his struggles at the start of 2017.
Murray wrestled the number one ranking away from Novak Djokovic with a stunning run of form at the back end of last season- particularly in the final two months of the campaign, when he won 24 matches in a row, and five straight tournaments from Beijing through to the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Murray has fallen well short of those heights this season. He won his solitary title in Beijing, but has generally struggled with his form and fitness. After a shock fourth round loss to Mischa Zverev at the Australian Open, he returned home to discover that he had shingles. He recovered in time to play and win in Dubai, but he endured a terrible time on the North American hard courts, losing to Vasek Pospisil in the opening round of Indian Wells, and pulling out of Miami with an elbow problem.
Murray doesn’t think his troublesome elbow should be traced to his exertions from last season, but he did admit that the shingles might have had a bit to do with his punishing end to 2016.
“It’s definitely a possibility... I think the elbow injury was nothing to do with what happened. The shingles would have been more likely something to do with that but I feel fine now. I got ill in Miami and had some tests when I got back and everything was completely normal and I feel great.”
There were contrasting reports about the extent of Murray’s elbow injury, with some suggesting that he could be out until the Madrid Masters, but world number one is adamant that he has fully recovered from the problem, which majorly affected his serve.
“I wouldn’t play if I felt like I was risking it. In practice I’ve been serving a lot. I only really started serving properly, as hard as I would hope to in a match, two days ago [but] I will have had five days before my match of serving at the right speed. I think it will be fine.”
Murray’s charge to the top of the world in 2016 actually stretched way back beyond Beijing. He put together his best ever clay court season, winning the Rome Masters, reaching the finals in Madrid and Roland Garros, and making the semi-finals in Monte Carlo.
The 29-year-old carried that form into the grass court season, where he went a perfect 12 out of 12, winning titles at Queens and Wimbledon, before going on to add a second Olympic title in Rio to take his winning streak to 18 matches.
By those high standards, a loss to Marin Cilic in the Cincinnati final, and a quarter final exit at the US Open came as real surprises, but he regrouped for one last run, going unbeaten from Beijing till the end of the season, and in the process, capturing the number one ranking.
In all, Murray won 61 of 65 matches from the beginning of the Rome Masters to his victory over Djokovic in his final match of the season in London.
Andy Murray. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
That is a whole lot of points to defend, and the Scot is perfectly clear about the amount of work that needs to be done if he is to retain that number one ranking for the rest of the season.
“Obviously I have some work to do to push myself back up in the [calendar-year] rankings again this year. That starts this week.”
This week starts with a second round tie against either Gilles Muller or Tommy Robredo, while he has got a possible third round meeting with in-form Spanish claycourter, Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Murray could play either Marin Cilic or Tomas Berdych in the quarter finals, while Stan Wawrinka or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could emerge as possible semi-final opponents.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are in the other half of the draw.
The Monte Carlo Masters is live from Masters is live from 16-21 April.