'Amazing' Murray set to flex muscles against old rival

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The Independent Online

Andrei Pavel, Andy Murray's first opponent in the Australian Open, yesterday described the Scot as "the hottest player on the tour". The 34-year-old Romanian, who has had a back injury, will be playing his first match since last February when he faces Murray tomorrow for the first time since their meeting in the US Open four years ago, when the British No 1 won in five sets despite being sick on the court.

"I have absolutely nothing to lose against Andy," Pavel said. "He has a real shot at the title and I haven't played for a year, so that tells you something about our match. I haven't even got as far as thinking whether I can win or not, I just want to go out and enjoy it. If I get in a position to win I will go for it. Since the US Open he has improved amazingly. He has become so much stronger and is very confident. He is one of the smartest players around. When we played at the US Open you could tell he was going to be good. I was the favourite then but now it's the other way round.

"He was throwing up and you could tell how badly he wanted to win because I was a break up in the final set. Now he is in amazing shape."

Pavel, who has just been made Romania's Davis Cup captain, was advised by doctors to retire last year but his back has improved and he now plans to end his career at his home tournament in Bucharest in September.

Jamie Murray believes his brother's excellent results over the last six months are down to his greater maturity and mental strength. "I think it clicked for him around the time of the grass-court season," he said. "I think mentally he became a lot more mature on the court. I would say he certainly started to understand how best to play his best tennis. I knew that he was more than good enough to play at that level and it was frustrating for me to watch him not do as well as I felt he should be doing.

"His mentality probably wasn't as strong as it should have been. But certainly in the last six months he's changed all that and I think he's playing so much better because of it.

"He's beaten everyone there is to beat and he'll come into this tournament with so much confidence, knowing that he can beat all those guys if it comes down to it."