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Page last updated at 20:19 GMT, Sunday, 22 November 2009

Murray revels in London spotlight

Andy Murray
Murray was given a rapturous reception by the 02 Arena crowd

By Piers Newbery
BBC Sport at the O2 Arena

When Andy Murray was asked how it felt to play a world championship match on home ground in front of 17,000 fans, the bashful smile said it all.

The 22-year-old might have taken a while to win over the British public but the level of expectation at London's O2 Arena on Sunday was undeniable, and much of it was down to him.

Murray provided the ideal start to the ATP World Tour Finals with an impressive three-set win over Juan Martin del Potro that certainly ensured the crowd got their money's worth.

That looked briefly in doubt when the US Open champion called for a medical timeout after just three games, and the collective groan inside the arena smothered even the ear-splitting music that was pumping out during the break in play.

But Del Potro was suffering with nothing more serious than a nosebleed and he recovered quickly enough to play his part in an entertaining contest that lasted over two hours.


It was not the first match of the day - an almost full house earlier provided what must be one of the largest crowds ever for a doubles match - but the mood changed from curiosity to excitement as Murray's match approached.

London Calling was an obvious choice to herald the arrival of the players on court but The Clash classic had the desired effect as the adrenaline surged through the crowd as much as the players.

Both men were given lengthy boxing-style introductions while their stats flashed around the advertising hoardings, but once the match was under way the court became the sole point of light in an otherwise blackened arena.

There was plenty of support for both players, especially during the second set, but the largely British crowd fell some way short of matching the raucous scenes at last weekend's Paris Masters when French star Gael Monfils took on Novak Djokovic in the final.

Still, Murray was happy enough with the crowd's efforts.

"I thought the atmosphere was very good. I'm obviously very focused on the match so maybe you don't notice it as much as the people watching. Seemed like it was a pretty good atmosphere to me."

Murray did remark on the fact that once the match began he could hear the crowd but, for the most part, couldn't see them.

The O2 Arena
A near-capacity O2 Arena played host to its first ever ATP Tour match

"It happens at a lot of the indoor events because they have the lighting right at the end of the court and it's dark in the back," he said. "It's obviously to help with keeping the focus on the court, but it's fine.

"It's different to Wimbledon, being indoors, having a big screen on the court and music playing. It's a completely different atmosphere."

That the ATP Finals provide a neat counterpoint to Wimbledon in terms of tennis in the UK is clear enough, scheduled as it is at the end of the year and with all the trappings of a major indoor event.

The stately grandeur of SW19 is replaced by music, lights, advertising and merchandising in SE10 - all of which might give some spectators a different view of the sport.

It's not a one-way street, however, and moving the tournament from Shanghai to London for four years looks like being a good move for men's tennis.

Since Stan Smith won the initial Masters in Tokyo 39 years ago, Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer are among those to have joined the honour roll.

Murray content with start in London

It's a mark of how poorly the concept has been sold over the years that a tournament which has been going in one form or another since 1970, and has been won by everyone who's anyone, still struggles to flick a switch in the imagination of most sports fans.

At least until now. With almost 260,000 tickets sold the O2 event is billed as the biggest indoor tennis tournament in history, and while there were empty seats to be seen during Murray's opening match the main areas of blue space were among the more expensive sections.

Whether all those seats are filled for the remaining seven days, and beyond that over the next three years, could well depend on the fortunes of the British number one.

For now, Murray is happy to focus on what is in front of him.

"The support helped," he said. "When I got close to winning at the end of the match, the atmosphere was excellent. That's going to make a big difference going into the next couple of matches."

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see also
ATP Finals photos
27 Nov 09 |  Tennis
Murray beats Del Potro in opener
22 Nov 09 |  Tennis
Murray v Del Potro as it happened
22 Nov 09 |  Tennis
Del Potro commits to Queen's Club
20 Nov 09 |  Tennis
London hosts season climax
20 Nov 09 |  Tennis
Murray ready for tough London draw
18 Nov 09 |  Tennis
Tennis on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Tennis

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