Andy Murray loses as he makes Abu Dhabi return in place of injured Djokovic

Murray volunteered at the last minute to step in for the injured Novak Djokovic to play Roberto Bautista Agut at the exhibition event. The British No1 looked like a man coming back after a five-month absence, losing the one-set match 2-6.

Andy Murray admits it will take a while for him to get back up to speed after his losing return to semi-competitive tennis at the World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.

Murray volunteered at the last minute to step in for the injured Novak Djokovic to play Roberto Bautista Agut at the exhibition event. The British No1 looked like a man coming back after a five-month absence, losing the one-set match 2-6. Especially early on in the piece, and with the Brisbane International Murrays only preparation for the Australia Open, the idea that he would be returning unhindered to the top of mens game appeared far-fetched.

The limp that was such a talking point at Wimbledon was still very much in evidence and his movement was hampered when dragged out wide on his forehand side. A helpful net cord allowed Murray to get on the board in the fifth game when he had faced points for 5-0 after which he improved. In the latter stages Murray began to move more freely and showed encouraging resolve to save three match on points on his own serve before defeat was confirmed in the next game.

The Scot said in an on-court interview broadcast by Eurosport: I felt better as it went on. I was a little bit slow at the start. Roberto is one of the best players in the world and when you havent competed at this level for a while it takes a long time to get back. I need to keep improving for sure.

Murray had been at the event just with the intention of training as he recovers from his well-publicised hip injury but taking the place of Djokovic at the exhibition event provided some encouragement over the Britons fitness.

Murray has been rebuilding his fitness after a year overshadowed by injury. The Australian Open starts on 15 January and Murray, who returned from training in Miami last week, is next scheduled to play in Brisbane with his first match on either 3 or 4 January. The three-times grand slam winner has not played competitively since making a quarter-final exit at Wimbledon this year.

After withdrawing in Abu Dhabi, Djokovics Australian Open participation has been cast in doubt. The Serbian has been out for almost six months but ahead of his return to action for the years first grand slam he had appeared the furthest forward of all mens tennis walking wounded, with Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic all pulling out ahead of the tournament.

Now, after his latest setback, Djokovic admits the injury might affect the start of the season, with the Australian Open starting on January 15. In a statement on Djokovics official personal website he said: I am terribly disappointed that I am forced to withdraw from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

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.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/dec/29/andy-murray-fitness-australian-open-novak-djokovic-injury