Murray faces a harsh test in Shanghai

There is a neat symmetry about this year's Tennis Masters Cup. The elite eight-man field comprises four newcomers and four more experienced hands, divided evenly into two round-robin groups.

The balance, however, ends there and it could prove to be to Andy Murray's misfortune that he has been drawn in the tougher of the two sections. This year's "group of death" at the end-of-season showpiece comprises Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, two of the game's most experienced players, and two debutants in Murray and France's Gilles Simon. They play their first matches in the splendid Qi Zhong Stadium here today.

"It's tough," Murray said. "All the matches are going to be difficult. Obviously I've been drawn in Federer's group, Roddick's got a lot of experience at the Masters Cup and Simon's played great towards the end of the year. I'll just try and play my best. If I do that, I'll be happy."

Murray's first assignment is against Roddick, who is one of only two players in the field who have topped the world rankings. The other is the current No 2, Federer, who kicks off his campaign to win the title for the fifth time in six years against Simon.

Federer is the clear favourite to top the table, but the Swiss has lost his last match against all three of his opponents. Murray, in contrast, beat all three of his rivals last time out and boasts a winning overall record against each of them. His straight-sets victory over Roddick at Wimbledon two years ago announced his arrival as a major player and he has lost only two of six encounters with the American.

"Each time I've played him the matches have been tight," Murray said. "There have been lots of close sets and a few points here or there changing the outcome. Obviously most matches against him are going to be tight because he serves so well. It's so difficult to break him. I'll just have to make sure that I return well and serve well. Hopefully the rest of my game would get me through if I do those two things well."

Not much has gone wrong for Murray in the last four months. He has won more ranking points than anyone in that period, reached his first Grand Slam final and won three titles, including two in the Masters Series. He has lost just four of his last 32 matches.

Roddick believes Murray's five-set victory over Richard Gasquet at Wimbledon this summer was the key to the 21-year-old Scot's breakthrough.

"We always knew Andy was going to be a player," Roddick said. "Maybe he just needed to get over that little bit of a hump at Wimbledon and break through by getting to the quarters. There's no more pressure for him than playing that tournament. To have played pretty well and to have come back in that match against Richard was maybe a huge turning point in his year. As far as forehands and backhands and tennis IQ are concerned, he's up there with anybody."

He added: "Learning how to manage a five-set match is also big. I remember from early in my career that you get so over-excited that by the fourth set your nerves have taken so much out of you that you're struggling a little bit. If he's having a tough match he's probably learned how to weather the ups and downs of a situation like that. There's no question that his movement has been great and he certainly has the staff around to make sure that he's in a good physical condition."

In yesterday's first matches in the other group it was the men of experience who came out on top, Novak Djokovic beating Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 6-3 and Nikolay Davydenko overcoming Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-7, 6-4, 7-6.

Nevertheless Murray believes the progress of the younger generation is inevitable. "I think tennis has got much stronger in the last couple of years," he said. "There are a lot of young guys coming through. There are a few who just missed out as well – Gasquet, Baghdatis has been badly injured, Monfils as well.

"There are a lot of good young players, which I think is exciting. Del Potro played unbelievably after Wimbledon and up until the US Open. Tsonga had a great Australian Open and finished the year really well and had a bad injury in between. We've all had very good years and it'll be interesting to see next year how everyone improves, how well we can challenge for the bigger tournaments."

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific