Andy Murray has been handed an extremely tough draw if he is to go one better than his past two years at the Australian Open over the next two weeks. The Scot reached the final in the last two years but has lost to Roger Federer in 2010 and then the magnificent Novak Djokovic in 2011.
Here we profile who the 24-year-old is likely to face in each round in his quest to be the first British major winner since Fred Perry in 1936.
America’s up and coming prodigy Ryan Harrison offers Andy Murray a real test in the first round in Melbourne. Murray has never played against the 19-year-old who rose up to world No 66 last year before falling back to number 84. Harrison turned professional in 2007 and has so far won $544,756 in career prize-money. He has only made it past the first round of a major once, at Wimbledon in 2011, but has a growing reputation in the game and has the potential weapons to hurt the fourth seed. The right-hander from Florida will certainly hold no fear against the British No. 1 in the first real test of Murray’s new coaching partnership with Ivan Lendl.
If Murray successfully navigates his was past Harrison he will face either Belgium’s Xavier Malisse or Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the second round. Murray has never lost to the experienced Belgium competitor Malisse who is a former Wimbledon semi-finalist. The 31-year-old is now in his 14th year as a professional and last played Murray at Queens in 2011, winning the second set. Murray has never faced world No.101 Roger-Vasselin, 28, who has never made it past the first round in Melbourne.
The third round could pair Murray with either experienced Frenchman Micheal Llodra, explosive Latvian Ernests Gulbis or 32nd seed Alex Bogomolov Jr of Russia. Unsurprisingly Murray has a positive head-to-head against each potential opponent in his final match of the first week. He hasn’t played Llodra, 31, since the 2008 US Open when he won in four sets. The left handed serve-volleyer would be dangerous to any player in the draw with his ability to attack the net. Gulbis has played five matches against the world No. 4 and lost each one of them. His shot-making ability is always a worry but he has temperament issues. Bogomolov Jr beat Murray in their first match-up at the Miami Masters last year, but he could not damage the Brit in two other matches at Cincinnati and in Japan.
The stand-out name that could play Murray in the fourth round is 14th seed Gael Monfils. The Frenchman with a career high ranking of seven is one of the great athletes from the back of the court and his defensive style will make Murray play extra shots to win points. Ever consistent at the back of the court, the 25-year-old is likely to give Murray his hardest match so far. If Monfils fails to reach a showdown with Murray, former Grand Slam winner Juan Carlos Ferrero or Serbian No. 3 Viktor Troicki could be waiting. Murray has beaten Ferrero three times, all in 2009. Troicki, the 19th seed, took the British No.1 to five sets at last years French Open but has yet to record a victory over him
Another Frenchman, sixth seed Jo Wilfred Tsonga could await Murray in the quarter final. Tsonga famously defeated Murray in the first round in 2008 before reaching the final in Melbourne after impressing with bullish displays. That was Tsonga’s only victory over Murray, however he was a tie-break away from victory at Queens last June. His power in his shot-making defeated Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2011 which makes him one of the most feared opponents on the circuit. Tsonga has a relatively easy draw to reach the quarters but could be defeated by fellow countryman Gilles Simon, the 14th seed, or Japanese sensation Kei Nishikori, 24nd seed. Simon has played Murray nine times, winning once and Nishikori lost his only encounter in straight sets at the Shanghai Masters last year.
After his season last year, it would be highly surprising if world No. 1 Novak Djokovic failed to reach the semi finals in Melbourne. The 24-year-old won three of the four majors last year and started the year on a run of 43 consecutive match victories. Djokovic is only a week younger than Murray and has beaten him on six of the 10 matches they have played, most notably the 2011 final in Melbourne. Murray was successful, however, in their last meeting as the exhausted and injured Serbian retired in the final of the Cincinnati Masters. Djokovic will have to steer his way past Andy Roddick and David Ferrer from his quarter of the draw if he is to reach the last four again. Ferrer was defeated by Murray at this stage last year. Roddick has reached the Australian Open semi-finals four times in his career and last beat Murray in the semi-final of Wimbledon in 2009.
If Murray was to make the final for a third successive year then it is most likely he will face another member of the so-called big four, either 15-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer or 10-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal. Nadal, this year's 2nd seed, beat Murray in three major semi-finals last year and holds a 13-5 head to head record against him. However the last time they met in Melbourne, the Scot won and would fancy his chances after the Spaniard announced he was taking a break from tennis in February. Roger Federer has beaten Murray in only six of their 14 encounters, yet two of these victories were straight set triumphs in Grand Slam finals. Should Murray play Federer in the final it would be a repeat of 2010 which the former world No. 1 won 6-3 6-4 7-6 (11).