Murray draw fears realised

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Andy Murray's worst fears were just about realised after he was handed a potentially nightmare draw for the Australian Open.

The 22-year-old Scot will be attempting to clinch his first-ever grand slam in Melbourne, but could have to beat three of the world's top four players including world number one Roger Federer and reigning Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal, to do so.

On the surface Murray's draw looked simple when he was matched to play a qualifier in his first-round match on Monday while either Marc Giquel or Simone Bolelli, who are both ranked outside the top 50, await in the second round.

The devil, however, is in the later rounds where Murray is set to pay for his ranking dropping to five this week.

The Scot dipped out of the top four for the first time since August 2008 after he opted not to defend his title in Doha and instead compete at the Hopman Cup in Perth - where no rankings points were on offer.

Murray has repeatedly stated that his desire to come to Australia and acclimatise to the conditions were the reason for his earlier than usual arrival Down Under and his form in Perth suggested he is on top of his game.

However, by falling to fifth in the rankings Murray opened up the possibility of playing a top four opponent earlier than expected in the last eight and he could not have wished for a more difficult rival after Nadal was pooled in his quarter of the draw.

The Spaniard won last year's title at Melbourne Park, and while he has not lifted an ATP title in eight months, he holds a 7-2 win-loss record over Murray.

If Murray progresses past Nadal then a worst-case scenario would then pit him against world number four Juan Martin del Potro - the winner of the US Open last September - before a final showdown with Federer who is chasing his fourth Australian Open crown.

It is a draw as difficult as Murray could have hoped, although the confident 22-year-old indicated this week he expected a tough pathway if he was to break his grand slam duck.

"If you get to the quarter-finals you're going to have to beat the best players anyway," he said.

"Maybe it will be one more than normal but you're banking on the top four seeds getting to the quarter-finals and you never know.

"There are always some surprises in there and I need to make sure I get there myself first."

Federer has reached 22 consecutive grand slam semi-finals, however, he faces a tough task to add to that with three former world number ones and his recent conqueror Nikolay Davydenko in the Swiss' quarter of the draw.

Federer's opening game is against the out-of-form Igor Andreev but he could play former number one and local hope Lleyton Hewitt in the third round.

Sixth seed Davydenko has beaten Federer in their past two meetings, including at Doha earlier this month, and could await in the quarter-finals.

Davydenko must first negotiate a tough part of the draw as well which includes Fernando Verdasco, who lost to Nadal in an epic semi-final last year, as well as former world number ones Juan Carlos Ferrero and Carlos Moya.

Defending champion Nadal's opening match is against Australian Peter Luczak and the Spaniard's run looks clear-cut before his potential last-eight meeting with Murray.

Radek Stepanek is the highest seed, at 13, that Nadal could play before then.

Fourth seed Del Potro's first match as a grand slam champion is against 31-year-old American Michael Russell.

The Argentinian is expected to take his place when the tournament starts on Monday despite pulling out of the AAMI Classic yesterday with a wrist injury.