Djokovic stars as the third man

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Serb serves reminder of his world ranking in face of growing Murraymania

Every other question to the leading players here at the Australian Open seems to be about Andy Murray. Do they see the world No 4 as the favourite for the title after his recent run of form? Does he have a hold over Roger Federer, having beaten him three times in a row? Can he take over from Rafael Nadal as world No 1?

Novak Djokovic, the world No 3 and defending champion here, has heard enough. Asked yesterday whether he saw Murray as "the third man" behind Nadal and Federer, he retorted: "What's his ranking and my ranking?"

The 21-year-old Serb added: "I like him as a person and as a player. He's done a lot in the last couple of months and he's a very talented player. We can expect him to win some Grand Slams in the future, but you cannot put him as the favourite next to Roger and Rafa and myself here at Australian Open."

Djokovic is not the only player underwhelmed by Murraymania. Federer, who expressed surprise last week at Murray's status as pre-tournament favourite, explained his irritation to a small group of Swiss reporters.

"You have four or five years where everybody praises you for all the things you do and then, all of a sudden, you have to answer questions about other players, what makes them so unique and special and what's the problem you have with them," Federer said. "When you have to do that in every country and in all the languages I speak, then it's not much fun, I can tell you.

"It's the same here with all the questions about Andy. He's a great player, no doubt. Everybody knows it and I said that about him a hundred times. But after the 10th time they want me to say it again but in another way – and that's what I don't like."

Murray himself is regularly asked whether he can become world No 1 but does not find it a distraction "because that's what I want to try and do". He added: "I'm happy to answer questions about it. I just need to make sure that I keep working hard and don't get too far ahead of myself, because if I play like I did for the last three or four months of last year I can do it, but it's one thing talking about it and it's another thing trying to do it on the court."

The British No 1 finds himself on centre stage again today. The evening programme in the Rod Laver Arena, the main show court, starts at 7.30pm (8.30am GMT), with Murray's second-round match against Marcel Granollers following Venus Williams's encounter with Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro.

Murray will do well to win as emphatically as Djokovic and Federer, who moved into the third round with resounding victories. Djokovic, whose Melbourne preparations featured unlikely defeats to Ernests Gulbis and Jarkko Nieminen, was particularly pleased with his serve and returns in a 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 win over France's Jeremy Chardy. "I'm playing better and better," he said after the match.

Federer was even more impressive, crushing Evgeny Korolev 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 to set up a third-round meeting with Marat Safin, who beat him in an epic semi-final on his way to the title here four years ago. The Russian saved a match point and won the fifth set 9-7 after four and a half hours.

Safin, who beat Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 yesterday, was asked whether much had changed since that match in 2005. "Well, his life also changed," Safin said with a smile. "His hasn't gone too badly. He won a couple of Grand Slams afterwards.

"Me? I got injured. I had to recover from the injuries, so we went in different ways. He got much more confident through the years and I had to recover from injury. So I'd like to be in his shoes."

The latest injury was suffered during a brawl back home in Russia, after which Safin turned up at the Hopman Cup in Perth sporting two black eyes. "I won the fight," he said. "I got in trouble in Moscow. I wasn't in the right place at the right time."

Safin said he was looking forward to playing Federer. "Every time I play against him I have very close matches," he said. "I have nothing to worry about. I'm going to play my match. We know each other pretty well. He knows how to play against me, I know how to play against him. Unfortunately I haven't won a lot of matches against him, but it's another chance. I have nothing to lose. I'm going to go for it."

He added: "I had my best years a few years ago before I got injured, but it's much easier to play without any pressure. Now there are a lot of new players coming in. Djokovic is playing great tennis. Murray is playing incredibly well."

David Nalbandian was considered an outside tip for the title here after his win in Sydney, but the Argentine became the highest-profile loser so far this week when he was beaten 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 by Yen-Hsun Lu, the world No 61. Lu, from Chinese Taipei, beat Murray in the first round of the Beijing Olympics.

Jelena Dokic thrilled the home crowd by beating Anna Chakvetadze, the No 17 seed, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 in the first match of the evening session, but 16-year-old Bernard Tomic was unable to repeat his heroics of the previous round and went down 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to Gilles Muller.


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