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Murray's mission intensifies

By Sun Xiaochen in Zhuhai, Guangdong province | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-23 09:25
Andy Murray will continue his comeback from hip surgery at this week's Zhuhai Championships. [USA TODAY SPORTS]

Briton stepping up singles comeback against heavyweight field in Zhuhai

Andy Murray will be the center of attention at this week's Zhuhai Championships as the former world No 1 steps up his singles comeback against a heavyweight field in Guangdong province.

The tournament, which has relocated from Shenzhen (the new venue for the WTA Finals next month), has attracted an impressive cast to battle for a share of a $1 million prize pool - the biggest of all ATP 250-level events - at the state-of-the-art Hengqin Tennis Center.

Four top-20 players - world No 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roberto Bautista Agut (10), Gael Monfils (12) and Borna Coric (15) - are kicking off their Asian swings of the tour in the coastal city, while the appearance of the mercurial Nick Kyrgios is another huge treat for fans.

Perhaps the most intriguing addition, though, is Murray as the Scot continues his bid to climb back to the level that won him three Grand Slam titles (2012 US Open, 2013 and 2016 Wimbledon) and two Olympic gold medals (2012 and 2016).

The 32-year-old, now ranked 413th in the world, has lost all two tour-level singles matches that he has played since recovering from a hip operation in January.

With the top four seeds in Zhuhai receiving first-round byes, Murray will open his tournament against big-hitting American Tennys Sandgren, who last month defeated the Brit 7-6 (8), 7-5 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

In his last competitive outing late last month, Murray won two matches at an ATP Challenger event at Rafael Nadal's academy in Mallorca, but Zhuhai will be a considerable step up in class.

Should he overcome Sandgren, seventh seed Alex de Minaur will await Murray, with Coric potentially up after that.

"Definitely, we would love to see Andy's long-anticipated first win happen here in Zhuhai," said Peter Lyu, a co-tournament director and executive director of Huafa Sports, which promotes and runs the championships.

"Each round he wins will be a huge reward for his Chinese supporters and the sponsors, and it will contribute greatly to the ticket sales and media exposure of this tournament."

Wild cards Zhang Ze, Wu Di and Zhang Zhizhen will carry home hopes.

Zhang Ze, the only Chinese man to ever break into the world's top 150(No 148 in May 2013), will face Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in his opener, with a potential second-round meeting with top seed Tsitsipas a major motivator for the 29-year-old Nanjing native.

Third seed Monfils and his French compatriot Lucas Pouille, seeded fifth, are also in the 21-year-old Greek star's side of the draw.

Both Wu and Zhang Zhizhen will play qualifiers in the first round. If Wu advances, Croatian fourth seed Coric will provide a stern test in round two. Should Zhang Zhizhen progress, a clash with Australian firebrand Kyrgios, who opens against Andreas Seppi, looms.

Kyrgios, Tsitsipas, Bautista Agut and Coric all face tough turnarounds from the Laver Cup in Geneva, where they represented either Team World or Team Europe over the weekend.

Spaniard Bautista Agut, who is pushing to book a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals in London, will open against American Steve Johnson or countryman Pablo Andujar.

Another prospect to watch is Aussie youngster de Minaur, who carries plenty of momentum into Zhuhai. The 20-year-old won his second ATP title at the Atlanta Open in July before reaching the fourth round of the US Open. He will play friend and compatriot John Millman in his opener before potentially facing Murray, who is also set to play tournaments in Beijing and Shanghai.

"The strong field certainly makes this tournament look like a higher-level event," said Lyu. "Now it's up to us to impress the players with great organization and hospitality."

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