Murray back Down Under a year older and a lot wiser

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The Independent Online

Roger Federer named Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic as players he expected to challenge for the game's major honours.

"I think we'll see more of the younger generation, people like Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic," he said. "I was a bit sceptical about them a year ago because their results in the Grand Slam events were very bad. They didn't really get as far as everybody was suggesting. I think this year will be better for them."

Murray hopes to start proving Federer's point when he begins his campaign in the year's opening Grand Slam tournament tomorrow against Spain's Alberto Martin. The British No 1 should win, though the draw has not been kind to him. The second round in particular, against Paul-Henri Mathieu or Fernando Verdasco, is a potential minefield. Jarkko Nieminen, the world No 17, is Murray's projected third-round opponent, followed by Rafael Nadal, the world No 2.

However, the 19-year-old Scot wisely refuses to look beyond even his first-round match. Twelve months ago he was favourite to beat Juan Ignacio Chela at the first hurdle but found himself on an early flight home.

"It was probably one of the best things that happened to me," Murray said. "I learnt so much from that loss and from how poorly I played. I learnt about what I was doing on the court and what was going wrong off the court. I realised I had to address it - and I feel that I did.

"I started working harder after the Australian Open and realised that I had to work on certain areas of my game that weren't good enough. I won a tournament a couple of weeks later [in San Jose] and I think that showed that I realised that I had to start working hard. And when I did, the results paid off."

Murray, who last year climbed from No 65 in the world to 17, added: "I feel like I can be myself a bit more off the court now, which makes me feel much better. Roger Federer is the perfect example of someone who is totally at ease with life. He always seems pretty chilled out. That's the sort of direction I think you have to take. I feel as though I'm starting to take a step in the right direction."

Twelve months ago tensions were beginning to surface in the relationship between Murray and Mark Petchey, his coach. This year he feels much happier with the team around him. Brad Gilbert, Petchey's successor, has helped to raise his game and Murray is enjoying the company of his brother, Jamie, who is playing in the doubles here, his girlfriend, Kim Sears, and his mother, Judy. "It's just nice having a lot of people around," he said. "Brad and my brother get on great."

Murray was scathing when he recalled his performance against Chela last year. "I didn't really know what I was doing," he said. "On some points I was being stupidly aggressive - and that's not me. I like to change up the pace, to play consistently and take my chances when they come.

"I've tried to add more things into my game so that this year, if things aren't going so well, I can change it up. I can come to the net for example.

"I think last year I had one way of playing and when that wasn't going well, I went into shutdown. I lost my head and didn't really know what to do. This year I feel that I have more ways of playing."

There are two Britons in the main draw after Alan Mackin, the world No 270, successfully negotiated the qualifying competition. The 25-year-old Scot, who will be playing in his first Grand Slam tournament outside Wimbledon, beat three higher-ranked players, Davide Sanguinetti (No 101), Alex Bogomolov Jnr (243) and Federico Luzzi (137). In the first round he plays Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti, the world No 68.

Murray believes that Mackin has the potential to be a top 100 player. "He just needs to learn to relax a little bit on the court," Murray said. "He can get a little bit uptight sometimes and I think when he learns to do that, he's in great shape. He works very hard and he's got a good head on his shoulders."