Tennis: Andy Murray on tough side of the draw for Australian Open
ANDY Murray faces the prospect of having to beat world number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic if he is to reach a third successive Australian Open final.
The Scot was today handed a tough draw for the season's first grand slam after being placed in the same half as the Serbian and the same quarter as a trio of dangerous Frenchman - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon.
Murray was also handed a potentially tricky opener against 19-year-old American Ryan Harrison - ranked 84 and one of the rising stars on the ATP Tour - although it is a clash he ought to navigate successfully.
Things could get much trickier later, however, as he faces a possible fourth-round meeting with the unpredictable Monfils, a quarter-final against Tsonga and then a semi against Djokovic.
Should he emerge from the top half then either Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer are likely to lie in wait in the final.
Nadal and Federer, who were paired in the same half of a major for the first time since the 2005 French Open both start against qualifiers while Djokovic will meet Italian Paolo Lorenzi first up.
Djokovic has arrived in Melbourne without playing a ranking event in 2012 but he claimed to be in perfect shape as he looks to build on a remarkable year which saw him record a 70-6 win-loss record and also win Wimbledon and the US Open in addition to his success in Australia.
"I've been here since last Wednesday which is quite early and plenty of time to get ready," said Djokovic. "The last five or six years I didn't arrive this early.
"I haven't played any little tournaments. I played a lot of matches in 2011 and I felt I didn't really need to perform the first week of the season. I feel comfortable preparing an extra week and I hope it works."
Djokovic believed winning in Melbourne last year gave him the momentum to go on and claim his place at the top of the rankings.
"I've been playing the best tennis of my life, especially in the first six months of the (2011) season," he said.
"I guess it probably started here in Australia. I played incredible in the later rounds and it gave me a lot of confidence and put the wind on my back.
"Mentally, I gained that necessary strength. I began to believe I could win the major tournaments along with the big names Federer and Nadal.
"They have been the two most dominant players in the game. They have been my two biggest rivals along with Andy Murray."
Djokovic will be happy with his draw although a possible third-round clash against either rising Canadian star Milos Raonic or experienced American Andy Roddick could prove testing.
The bottom half provides few obstacles to prevent a mouthwatering last-four clash between Federer and Nadal.
The Swiss, who has failed to add to his 16 grand slam crowns over the last two years, is slated to meet Mardy Fish in the last eight while Nadal could take on Tomas Berdych.
Independent News Service