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Tim Henman: 'Andy Murray is heading in the right direction'

Andy Murray played his first tournament since October at the second-tier Challenger level last week.

Tim Henman believes Andy Murray is heading in the right direction but admitted the grand slams may prove a step too far.

The former world number one played his first tournament of the year in Italy last week on the second-tier Challenger Tour, reaching the final before losing to Illya Marchenko.

It was a jarring sight seeing Murray battling away in a sports hall while the world's best players competed in the Australian Open but an ill-timed bout of coronavirus prevented him from travelling to Melbourne, and the 33-year-old did not want to waste time.

He was still deciding on Monday whether to stay in Biella and compete in a second Challenger, while it was confirmed he will make his ATP Tour return at next week's Open Sud de France in Montpellier.

Henman, who is working as a pundit for Eurosport during the Australian Open, said: "I watched some of his matches last week and spoke to (coach) Jamie Delgado and it's great that he played five matches in six days.

"I think it also speaks volumes about his hunger and desire. It can't be easy when you've got the Australian Open going on in the background and you're at a lower-level event.

"The more I'm seeing him compete, I think his movement is going in the right direction and so the more he can play matches and his body can recover, then I think the more opportunity he's got of stepping up to the next level.

Tim Henman, left, is encouraged by Andy Murray's progress
Tim Henman, left, is encouraged by Andy Murray's progress (Jonathan Brady/PA)

"When I look back to the tournament he won in Antwerp at the end of 2019, his movement is much better now. If he could win that tournament, can he get back to win again on the main tour? I think he can.

"The slams, best of five sets and the recovery, I don't know the possibilities there, he doesn't know the possibilities, but he wants to give himself that opportunity to challenge himself."

With the Australian Open having reached the quarter-final stages, Henman still sees Novak Djokovic as favourite for the men's title despite an abdominal problem that threatened his participation in the tournament.

Djokovic sustained the injury during a five-set win over Taylor Fritz in round three and battled past Milos Raonic on Sunday to set up a clash with Alexander Zverev.

Novak Djokovic received treatment for an abdominal injury during his third-round victory in Melbourne
Novak Djokovic received treatment for an abdominal injury during his third-round victory in Melbourne (Andy Brownbill/AP)

Henman said: "We're guessing. Is he restricted by 20 per cent, or 10 per cent, or one per cent? He did very well to recover and beat Raonic. Any time that Djokovic steps out on the court, he's going to be ready to compete. If that's the amount that we know, then I have to say he's the favourite."

Djokovic's problems were greeted with some scepticism and, asked about the way he is portrayed in the media, the 33-year-old told Serbian media: "I have mostly made peace with it.

"I cannot say that it doesn't sometimes get to me – of course an injustice or an unfair portrayal by the media affects me. I am a human being, I have emotions and naturally I don't enjoy it."

Henman, who faced his own share of media scrutiny during his playing career, advised Djokovic to let such concerns go, saying: "For me, when I look at his performances, his record, he's the number one in the world, he's won 17 slams, this is what 100 per cent of his energy, his mental focus, should be on.

"Perceptions and other people's thoughts, I'm surprised that he even gives one per cent of his energy or his time or his focus to these types of things because, to me, it's not important and he can't control it."

Henman, meanwhile, does not believe this will be the grand slam where Serena Williams finally wins her 24th singles title despite the 39-year-old having looked strong so far.

Henman said: "I don't think she will (win). Not through lack of effort. I just think the competition is getting better and better all the time. It can't be any easier at the age of 39.

"For me, it could easily be a little bit of a psychological hurdle. Having lost in four major finals, trying to break the record. I would go with one of the seven others."

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Thursday's key events

· The women's heptathlon continues with the long jump, javelin and 800m, with Katarina Johnson-Thompson now out of contention following an injury (1.10am-1.40pm)
· Andrew Pozzi pursues his dream of an Olympic medal in the men's 110m hurdles final (3.55am)
· Tom Bosworth and Callum Wilkinson are among the British hopes in the men's 20km race walk (8.30am)
· Holly Bradshaw aims to improve on fifth in Rio to challenge Greece's Katerina Stefanidi and Anzhelika Sidorova of Russia for an unlikely medal in the women's pole vault (11am)
· London 2012 champion Kirani James goes up against current world champion Steven Gardiner in the men's 400m final (1pm)

· One of the toughest Olympic events takes place in Tokyo Bay as GB's Hector Pardoe takes on the men's 20km marathon swim (10.30pm Wed)

· Galal Yafai takes on takes on Kazakhstan's Saken Bibossinov for a spot in the gold medal bout of the fly (48kg-52kg) class (6.48am)

· Lois Toulson and Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix (daughter of First Dates' Fred Sirieix) line up for the women's 10m platform (semi-final 2am; final 7am)

· Australia face Belgium in the men's final (11am)

> Today's schedule in full
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