Lesser players can shine, says Lloyd

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The Independent Online

It is 76 years since a British man won the Australian Open but there will be one former player here from the country that produced Fred Perry who knows what it takes to reach the final of the year's opening Grand Slam tournament. Since Perry beat Jack Crawford in 1934, John Lloyd is the only Briton who has made it to the men's singles final. He did so in 1977, losing in five sets to Vitas Gerulaitis.

As the tournament started here today, Lloyd was not expecting a men's winner to emerge from outside the world's top five players, though he enjoys the fact that this is the most unpredictable of all the Grand Slam events. Over the last 20 years, winners have included Thomas Johansson and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, seeded No 16 and No 10 respectively, while five unseeded players – Carlos Moya, Thomas Enqvist, Marat Safin, Marcos Baghdatis and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – have reached the final.

"It's absurd that the Australian Open comes so soon after the end of the previous season," Lloyd said. "You never know how much preparation the guys have done – and even if they have done a lot you don't know how many of them are still suffering from a tough season the previous year.

"In many ways the Australian Open is not easy to peak for. I always think that if you're one of the lesser players this is the Grand Slam to train the hardest for because it's the one you have the best chance of winning. Once everyone gets into the groove as the season progresses the number of upsets gets fewer, but the Australian Open is always ripe for upsets."

Lloyd believes the short time some players give themselves to acclimatise can be a factor, with those who arrive early or from warm-weather training camps enjoying an advantage. "There are a lot of players who maybe spend the off season training indoors or in colder weather and suddenly they're outside playing in 100-degree heat," he said. "You can't train for that.

"In my day, we used to play out on the circuit in Australia for a month beforehand. The tournament used to start on 26 December. We were all acclimatised by the time the Australian Open came around, but it took a couple of weeks before you started to feel right."

Britain's Davis Cup captain said it was hard to pick a winner from the leading men. "There are such small dividing lines between them," he said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how Roger Federer reacts to what he did last year. Having become a father and broken all those records, might he just have lost 1 or 2 per cent of his desire? I don't know whether that is the case, but in all probability that would be enough for him not to win Slams in the future."