Abu Dhabi | Murray steps in when Djokovic pulls out

The highly publicised return of Novak Djokovic after six months off with an elbow injury proved a great disappointment. The confident mood within his camp prior to his Mubadala Tennis Championship semi-final encounter with Roberto Bautista Agut, was clearly misplaced as he handed the Spaniard a walkover just hours before he was due on court at what is an exhibition event, blaming a recurrence of his tennis elbow injury.

It was unfortunate that Novak was unable to play so I agreed to play a set. I was very lucky to be able to come out here and play in front of everyone. It was good fun. I’ve missed it Andy Murray

“I am terribly disappointed that I am forced to withdraw from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship,” the Serbian, a former world No1 now ranked 12 said in a statement on his website. “Unfortunately, in the past few days I started to feel pain in the elbow and after several tests, my medical team has advised me not to risk anything, to withdraw from the tournament and to immediately continue with the therapies.

“I am very sad because I was eager to return to playing official matches. I enjoyed the practices and everything I did to get ready for the start of the season, including the tournament in Abu Dhabi, where I always enjoy playing. Now I need to accept this situation, and to wait for the results of the therapies, in order to start playing tennis again and getting back to full rhythm. This might affect the start of the season and the tournament plan, but the decision will be made in the following days.”

Later in the day he announced he wouldn’t be competing in Doha which would have marked his official comeback on the ATP Tour. Now there are doubts as to whether he will be fit for the Australian Open which starts on January 15.

Fortunately for the Abu Dhabi organisers, Andy Murray was on site. The British No1 and former world No1, now ranked 16 following his own lay-off with a hip injury, agreed to play an exhibition set against Agut to fill the unexpected gap in their schedule.

The outing was an excellent practice session for the Brit to test himself against a top player. Despite losing 6-2, he was relieved that he had come through without any serious consequences though he was obviously match rusty through lack of play.

He walked on court with a marked limp and during play he was slow but his movement improved as the set progressed.

Following his testing outing, Murray said on court: “It took me a while to get back up to that sort of pace. I started to feel a bit better towards the end but I’ll need to keep improving, for sure.

“It was nice. I was planning on stopping here for a couple of days on the way over to Australia to get some practice in with the guys here.

“It was unfortunate that Novak was unable to play so I agreed to play a set. I was very lucky to be able to come out here and play in front of everyone. It was good fun. I’ve missed it.”

His next appearance should be the Brisbane International which starts on Sunday

Murray is now expected to make a decision on whether to play the Brisbane International, which is due to start on Sunday. He has taken a plane to arrive there ahead of the first day’s play with delighted organisers’ revealing he has booked a practice court for his arrival so the omens are currently good.

Meanwhile back at the main event in Abu Dhabi, Kevin Anderson defeated Dominic Thiem in his semi-final 7-6 6-4.

“Obviously, a very close match today as Dominic is a great player. The match came down to a point here and a point there. Fortunately, I was on the winning end of those,” said Anderson adding that he is very much looking forward to the final against Roberto Bautista Agut. “Yes, the support was great from the crowd and I hope to come out and do well tomorrow.”

In the fifth-place match, Russian rising star Andrey Rublev defeated Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta in straight sets 6-4 6-2 in just a little over an hour. Busta, who finished in the top 10 at the end of 2017, has now lost 10 of his last 11 matches and is clearly showing poor form ahead of the new season.




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