Andy Murray is the one certainty to play in the singles in Britain's Davis Cup tie against Argentina next month, but the 20-year-old Scot found himself upstaged here yesterday by the two men fighting it out to fill the No 2 slot.
While a jet-lagged Murray was losing to Marat Safin in the Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament, Alex Bogdanovic and Jamie Baker both enjoyed good victories over higher-ranked opponents in the first round of qualifying for next week's Australian Open. Bogdanovic beat America's Robby Ginepri, a former US Open semi-finalist, 6-3, 6-1, while Baker overwhelmed Russia's Yuri Schukin 6-2, 6-0.
This could be a make-or-break year for 23-year-old Bogdanovic. Having hit a career-high No 108 in the world rankings last summer, he has slipped to No 180 and will be hoping that Brad Gilbert can turn his fortunes around. The Lawn Tennis Association has asked the American coach, who parted company with Murray at the end of last year, to work with the British No 2. Gilbert is not here with Bogdanovic, who is being assisted instead by Peter Lundgren, Britain's Davis Cup coach, but will join his new charge on the road next month.
Ginepri, 25, who was world No 15 only two years ago but has dropped to No 132, was below his best physically, but is a good scalp for Bogdanovic, who now plays the Czech Republic's Pavel Snobel or Germany's Simon Stadler.
John Lloyd, Britain's Davis Cup captain, is here and must have been equally impressed by Baker. The world No 217 never looked in trouble against Schukin, who is 97 places above him in the world rankings, and earned a second-round tie against Austria's Alexander Peya. Anne Keothavong, Katie O'Brien, Elena Baltacha and Mel South were all due to play in the women's qualifying competition today.
Murray is the only Briton with a high enough ranking to go directly into the Australian Open and is completing his preparations as one of an eight-man elite field at Kooyong. Having arrived late from Doha, where he won the title at the weekend, Murray then had his first match here brought forward to earlier in the day than he had expected. He lost 6-1, 6-4 and said later that he had felt so unwell that he nearly redecorated the new Plexicushion surface at Kooyong – which matches the relaid courts at the Australian Open – with the chicken sandwiches he had just eaten. "I hadn't had my lunch too long before the match, so in some of those long rallies I felt like it was all about to come up," he said. "Obviously, you want to play well here, but the most important thing for me is to get in 100 per cent shape come Monday."
In the women's event in Sydney, Justine Henin began her year with a 6-2, 6-0 thrashing of Estonia's Kaia Kanepi. The world No 1's next opponent will be Ana Ivanovic.