Andy Murray is ready to withdraw from the ATP World Tour Finals in London for the second time in three years in order to give himself extra preparation for Great Britain's first Davis Cup final for 79 years against Belgium. The tie is set to be staged on clay, the British number one's weakest surface, and Murray wants an extended period to adapt to the conditions.
Murray went on a 15-match winning streak on clay earlier in the season, claiming the Bavarian International Tennis Championships and Madrid Open titles, before being defeated by Novak Djokovic in five sets in the French Open semi-final. Nevertheless, with clay representing the surface Murray had enjoyed the least success on and Belgium expected to revert to the slow court they have played five of their last nine home ties on this decade, the Scot is concerned by the potential lack of preparation time.
In August, Murray became the second player to confirm his place in the season-ending tour finals at the O2 Arena – hosted between 16-22 November – having reached the final at the Australian Open and the last four at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, while winning four tour titles. Should the Briton reach the final in the English capital for the first time, his recovery time from a potential run of five matches in seven days, ahead of the final on 27-29 November, would limit his practice time on a court that will likely be unfamiliar to him. As in the quarter-final and semi-final ties against France and Australia, Murray would be expected to play in three rubbers, including the doubles with older brother Jamie.
Belgium have until 28 September to confirm the venue and the surface of their first final appearance for 111 years. Should the decision be taken to play on Murray's least favourite surface it could lead to him pulling out of the ATP's flagship event. The Scot, who won three rubbers as Britain overcame Australia to reach their first final since 1978, has highlighted the fitness troubles which beset Roger Federer last season. The 17-time majors champion suffered a back injury at the O2 Arena and withdrew from the final against Djokovic before losing his opening matches to France's Gael Monfils, although he recovered to guide Switzerland to victory.
"The O2 would obviously be a question mark for me if we were playing on the clay," Murray told BBC Radio 5 live. "I would go and train and prepare on the clay to get ready for the final. You saw last year with Roger Federer that the matches at the O2 are extremely tough and physically demanding.
"If you reach the final and play on the Sunday you also need to take time off – you can't just play five matches against the best players in the world and then not take any days off. For me to play – if I was to reach the final – five in a row and then take a couple of days off, it would mean only playing for two days on the clay before the Davis Cup final starts and that wouldn't be enough for me. I need more time on the clay to let my back get used to it."
The absence of Murray would be a huge blow to the O2 Arena – who have extended their relationship with the tournament into a 10th year to 2018 – the ATP and title sponsor Barclays, with the former US Open and Wimbledon champion rare appearances on British shores important in shifting a significant number of last-minute tickets. He missed the event in 2013 after undergoing surgery on a back injury and has never made it past the semi-final stage in six attempts in the competition format.