Andy Murray targets one key area to improve his game in 2024

Andy Murray - Murray targets one key area to improve his game in 2024
Andy Murray has suffered back-to-back losses as he prepares for the Australian Open - Getty Images/Bradley Kanaris

Andy Murray’s Melbourne preparations began on Wednesday at the Kooyong Club – an elegant venue, dating back to the 1920s, that displays a number of 19th-century wooden rackets in its foyer.

Kooyong – which hosted the Australian Open until 1987 – is a grand old institution that has lost much of its relevance. Sound at all familiar? Still, even if you could say the same about Murray, he remains bullish about his prospects for 2024. If he can just tighten up his serving game, he says, some of last season’s regular near-misses could tip over into victories.

“Last year, when it came to serving for matches, I was not getting many free points, ending up in long rallies,” Murray said. “[I was] just not feeling comfortable on the court. So hopefully, with some improved serving and feeling a bit better about my game, when I put myself in those situations, it goes well.”

Admittedly, this was not the case on Wednesday against Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion. Struggling with that serve in a swirling wind, Murray went down to a 6-3, 7-5 defeat against a fellow old-stager who enjoys the luxury of two organic hips.

Remember, though, that Murray is still in preparation mode. The Kooyong Classic is only an exhibition, and the main point of being here was to tinker with a few mechanics. He began to find an ace or two towards the end, and sounded reasonably chipper as he came off court amid a mob of pint-sized autograph hunters.

“I didn’t serve that well at the beginning of the match,” he said. “But got a bit better as it went on and had a few chances in the second set. I didn’t get them, but it’s always good to get some matches in, and being here is a little bit different than playing practice sets.”

Murray is due to return to Kooyong – a pleasant 20-minute drive from the city centre through golf courses and parkland – for a second crack on Thursday, against another former US Open champion in Dominic Thiem.

Kooyong remains a useful staging post on the way to the Australian Open, where Murray was once a fixture in the second week. This year, he has 90 ranking points to defend at Melbourne Park – the tournament’s modern home – after his dramatic and exhausting run to the third round here 12 months ago.

‘I was playing rubbish’

Murray opened last year’s event with a back-from-the brink win over 13th seed Matteo Berrettini – the first in what proved to be a series of miraculous recoveries from match point down. When he found himself on the wrong end of several similar comebacks, later in the year, he was merely experiencing a reversion to the mean.

“I was also playing rubbish,” Murray said, in relation to his testy relationship with the finish line last autumn. “If you’ve been a top player, and then your ranking drops, you’re not winning as many matches. So when you get in those situations, you probably don’t cope with them as well.

“Last year, I certainly lost a number of matches that I could have won. I know that I’ve made improvements in the off season, and I want to put that on the match court. I was pushing a lot of guys – [Alex] De Minaur, [Taylor] Fritz, [Stefanos] Tsitsipas – even though I really didn’t feel good on the court at all. So hopefully, with a few improvements, I can challenge the top players.”

Murray’s off-season work focused on his serve, which De Minaur broke twice to escape a 5-2 deciding-set lead in November. Struggling to digest that sickener straight after the match, Murray said that he could not remember a comparable collapse in his entire career. His accuracy remained dubious for much of Wednesday’s match, however, and when he missed his first delivery, he found himself at the mercy of Cilic’s blistering forehand.

“The game is there but he’s having a little bit limitations,” Cilic said of Murray after the match. “He was so, so explosive in the past. He could get some balls back that like one per cent of the guys on the tour would get. I just feel that Andy’s movement is a touch more limited than it was.”

No one would dispute this point, not even Murray himself. But then, he is not looking to win slams any more. A more realistic ambition is to reach the second week, or even just to experience a few more moments of connection and drama, as when he overcame local hero Thanasi Kokkinakis here last year at 4.02am.

Murray’s feats of escapology provided the most lasting memories from an otherwise routine first week at the 2023 Australian Open. While he prays for a favourable draw on Thursday, the tournament organisers will surely be rooting for him, too.

Furious Kecmanovic claims Draper’s shot ‘went under the net’

By Molly McElwee

Jack Draper won an epic match to reach the Adelaide International quarter-finals, but not before some controversy in the dying moments.

The British No 4 battled back from losing the first set to push the match to a third-set tie-break and then recovered a 4-1 deficit to even up the score at 5-5.

That is when the drama heightened as, when the umpire awarded him the next point, his Serbian opponent Miomir Kecmanovic claimed Draper’s shot had gone through the net – not over it.

“Don’t talk to me, the ball went under the net,” a furious Kecmanovic told the umpire, and implored them to “call someone” because he was “not going to play”.

Kecmanovic then refused to play for five minutes, and continued to argue his cause in the blazing afternoon sun.

When the match eventually restarted Draper, 22, kept his nerve and eventually won 5-7, 7-6, 7-6 in 3hr 39min, avenging his loss to Kecmanovic at the Davis Cup last autumn.

He faces top seed Tommy Paul in the last eight on Thursday, in what has been a good warm-up tournament for the Briton ahead of the Australian Open, which begins this Sunday.

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