Murray faces fight to keep title and ranking

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The Independent Online

It is nine months since Andy Murray last won a tournament. Unless he wins the Toronto Masters next Sunday, the world No 4 will hold just one title, the Valencia Open, which he won last November.

Murray will be defending both his crown and his world No 4 ranking in Toronto this week. Twelve months after beating Juan Martin del Potro in the final of the world's third oldest tennis tournament – only Wimbledon and the US Open have been going longer than the 139-year-old Canadian event – he has to reach the final to avoid being overtaken by the current world No 5, Robin Soderling, who is his scheduled quarter-final opponent.

There is plenty of work to do to reach the last eight. Murray, who does not expect to announce a new coach until next month following his split with Miles Maclagan, has a first-round bye, after which he meets Xavier Malisse or Michael Berrer on Wednesday, with the winner likely to play Gaël Monfils in the third round.

Soderling, too, has potential banana skins in his path, with Ernests Gulbis a possible second-round opponent and David Nalbandian, who was meeting Marcos Baghdatis in the Washington final last night in his first tournament for four months following a hamstring injury, perhaps awaiting in the third.

Murray, who is seeded to meet Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals, lost to Sam Querrey in the final in Los Angeles eight days ago in his first tournament appearance since Wimbledon. He stayed on in California to train last week, although he fitted in both a trip to Malibu and a meeting with Jose Mourinho and his Real Madrid squad, who were also training at the UCLA campus.

Nadal, having gone to South Africa to watch the World Cup final and then spent most of July fishing or on the beach in Majorca, has been back in training for nearly a fortnight. The Spaniard has struggled to maintain his fitness at this stage of the season in past years, but he believes he is in "perfect" shape for an assault on the only Grand Slam title still to elude him. The US Open starts in New York in three weeks' time.

Nadal is playing doubles in Toronto with Novak Djokovic. It is believed to be the first time since Jimmy Connors partnered Arthur Ashe in 1976 in a tournament in New Hampshire that the world's No 1 and No 2 men have played together.

Djokovic is seeded to meet Roger Federer in the other singles semi-final. Federer, who celebrated his 29th birthday yesterday, says he has been "preparing intensely" for the final leg of the Grand Slam season following his disappointments at the French Open and Wimbledon.

The draw could see Federer meet Alejandro Falla, who so nearly beat him in the first round at Wimbledon, and Tomas Berdych, his conqueror at the All England Club.

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