The new year has not even been rung in yet, but for Andy Murray the 2014 season has started. The Scot has wasted no time in getting down to business at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, which starts today and will be his first tournament of the new campaign.

Having completed his commitments at an exhibition event along the Gulf coast at Abu Dhabi on Friday, Murray was due to practise last night at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in preparation for his first competition since having a back operation three months ago.

After opting for surgery in the hope of curing the lower-back problem which had troubled him for the previous 18 months, Murray had always aimed to return in time for the start of the new season.

He began his rehabilitation programme at home, where he took advantage of some of the medical facilities just a few minutes' drive away at Chelsea's training ground, and stepped up his work this month at his traditional off-season "boot camp" in Miami.


It was only four weeks ago that the world No4 felt strong enough to start playing points in practice, but his progress was evident last week in Abu Dhabi, where he played two matches against top-10 opponents.

While it is usually unwise to read anything into the results of exhibition matches, Murray's defeat by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and victory over Stanislas Wawrinka did at least confirm that the 26-year-old is on track with his recovery.

"It was good to get two matches against top players," Murray said. "Everyone needs matches at this stage, especially me. It's been a perfect start and hopefully I'll get better."

Murray should enjoy more top-level competition in Qatar at an event that often features the strongest field of any tournament in the build-up to the Australian Open, which starts in just 15 days.

Murray could not have wished for an easier reintroduction to tournament play. Yesterday's draw handed him a first-round meeting with Mousa Zayed, a Qatari wild card ranked No2099 in the world who lost his most recent match to the world No1269, Britain's Scott Clayton, 6-0 6-0.

- Independent