Andy Murray in Abu Dhabi
World number one on the Mubadala World Tennis Championship Discuss this article
While many Britons will look back at 2016 as a year of turmoil and upheaval, for Andy Murray it has been 12 months of sheer joy. Not only did the Scottish star secure second titles at both Wimbledon and the Olympics, he also claimed the No.1 spot in the ATP rankings and became a dad for the first time. Quite a year then.
After cementing his place as top dog in men’s tennis with victory in the season-ending World Tour Finals in London, Murray is heading to Abu Dhabi for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, being held from Thursday December 29 to Saturday 31.
And as he prepares to return to the International Tennis Stadium, the scene of two previous triumphs, we ask whether the 29-year-old could ever have envisaged such a momentous year. “Coming into 2016, I knew I was playing some good tennis after winning the Davis Cup at the end of 2015 – and not many people saw that coming,” he tells Time Out. “The first part of the season was good, but with a few up-and-down performances. The last six months of the year were great, though, and I was able to take the momentum from each tournament into the next.”
Being part of arguably the greatest generation of players to have ever graced the game, Murray has long been denied the official No.1 spot by three rivals – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But, as he sits on top of the pile, the size of his accomplishment is not lost on him.
“It’s definitely one of my proudest achievements. I’ve been incredibly lucky to play in one of the strongest eras of tennis, and to be able to reach the top of the rankings at this stage in my career is a special feeling.”
Another hugely special moment in Murray’s world came when his wife, Kim Sears, gave birth to their daughter Sophia in February. And it seems fatherhood has given him an even greater impetus. “Having my first child will always be one of the proudest moments in my life,” he says.
“It’s an incredible experience, and it’s really hard to compare it to anything, on or off the court – I’ve got pretty good at changing nappies now.
“It’s definitely given me new motivations. I really want to make Sophia proud in everything I do. It’s a comforting thought and gives me more stability to know that, win or lose, when I return from a tournament she still looks at me the same way.”
Murray will face either David Goffin or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semi-finals in Abu Dhabi, both of whom have found it tough going against the Scot over the years. In the other side of the draw, Canadian ace Milos Raonic awaits the winner of the day one clash between Tomáš Berdych and defending champion Nadal. But Murray remains confident about his chances in the capital, especially having taken the inaugural title here seven years ago and followed it up with another triumph in 2015.
“Of course [I have an affinity with the tournament]. Winning here back in 2009 was a great feeling,” he says. “It’s a really well-run and enjoyable event to be a part of. Despite no ranking points being on offer, it’s always a place where a lot of the players are keen to perform well. Gaining momentum at such an early stage in the season is invaluable, especially as the Australian Open is just around the corner.”
Despite his momentous year, a period of self-congratulation is furthest from Murray’s mind. So, how can he top 2016? “The great thing for me is, in my own mind, I still don’t think I’m the finished product,” he says.
“I think I still have some of my best tennis ahead of me, and that excites me. I’d love to win the Australian Open and the French Open. I’ve come close at both over the last few years, so to be able to get over the line in those, and complete the ‘career golden slam’ would be an incredible feeling.”
So don’t miss Murray’s bid to continue his fabulous form as he takes on some of the world’s best in the winner-takes-all tournament with a US$250,000 (Dhs918,000) top prize.
From Dhs300 per day (adults). Dec 29-31. International Tennis Stadium, Zayed Sports City, www.mubadalawtc.com.
The competitive Czech slipped down the rankings in 2016, but as he proved in his run to the Wimbledon semis, he is still a tough nut to crack on his day.
After a breakthrough year in which he reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final, the Belgian will be hoping to spring an upset in Abu Dhabi.
One of the biggest hitters in the game, the 14-time Grand Slam winner will be hoping to put an injury-ravaged year behind him and find his old form again.
Backed by his unerringly accurate serve, the Canadian made the Wimbledon final and surely has the game to grab his first Slam.
So often the nearly-man, Tsonga has the talent to ruffle the big boys’ feathers. The fast surface in Abu Dhabi should suit the Frenchman’s game.
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