Murray: 'Federer won his first Slam at the 17th attempt. This is my 17th'

On the eve of the Australian Open, Andy Murray tells Paul Newman in Melbourne why he is now better equipped than ever to finally break his major duck

Andy Murray's recall of statistics and past matches is as impressive as his thumping double-handed backhand or the deftest of his drop shots. The Scot can always reel off first-serve percentages and match scores like a historian reciting the dates of major battles.

But as he prepares to wage war in the Australian Open, which begins here on Monday, Murray has one particularly telling statistic that he wants to get off his chest. "I haven't played that many Grand Slams," he says. "Roger Federer won his first when he played his 17th – and this is going to be my 17th." For a man who has had to listen to the charge that, at 22, he is already too old to win his first major title, the numbers seem loaded with an irresistible symmetry.

"I missed a few Slams through injury, and had a few injury problems going into a few of them," he continues, talking in a break from his preparations for the opening major tournament of 2010. As he speaks, his entourage – coach Miles Maclagan, physiotherapist Andy Ireland, and one of his personal trainers, Jez Green – melt into the background of the players' lounge at the exclusive Kooyong tennis club, where the world No 5 has been playing this week. When Team Murray needs a spokesman, there is only one man for the job.

"This is something I've talked about with my team, about making sure that I'm absolutely ready for the Slams." Murray says. "Maybe that means taking an extra week off beforehand, or travelling early to make sure I don't catch any bugs. That's what I'm going to do to make sure I'm 100 per cent fit for the Slams."

So is Murray ready to make the final push into the list of Grand Slam champions? Could it happen here in Melbourne? Federer, who won his first major one month before his 22nd birthday, was a comparatively late developer. Most modern Slam winners achieve their goal considerably earlier. Ivan Lendl, who won his first at the age of 24 in his 19th Grand Slam tournament, was the most notable exception. Of the three men other than Federer who have won Slams since the 2005 Australian Open, Rafael Nadal did so at the sixth attempt at the age of 19, Novak Djokovic at the 13th attempt aged 20, and Juan Martin del Potro at the 14th attempt aged 20.

Murray, who will be 23 in May, has always maintained that he would not reach his peak until he approaches his mid-twenties. He is now gearing everything towards peaking at the major events. He chose not to defend his Qatar Open title last week in the interests of arriving early in Australia in order to give himself more time to acclimatise.

And Murray will need to be strong throughout the coming fortnight if he is to triumph. His subsequent slip to No 5 in the world rankings means that he may have to beat Nadal (world No 2) in the quarter-finals, Del Potro (No 4) in the semi-finals and Federer (No 1) in the final if he is to win here.

Before that he faces a qualifier in the first round and is then seeded to meet Marc Gicquel or Simone Bolelli in the second, Jurgen Melzer in the third and Gaël Monfils in the fourth. Only the last two players on that list can truly claim to have threatening form.

In the other half of the draw, Federer has potentially tricky early matches against Igor Andreev and Lleyton Hewitt before scheduled meetings with Nikolay Davydenko and Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.

Although the Australian Open is played on Murray's favourite surface, he has only a moderate record on the hard courts here, having gone no further than the fourth round, in which he lost to Nadal in 2007 and to Fernando Verdasco last year. In the last two years he has been unfortunate to run into opponents – Verdasco and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – who made flying starts to the year and went on to reach the semi-finals and final respectively.

Murray believes he has matured in the last 12 months. "Last year was the first time I played consistently well throughout the year, with hardly any early losses," he says. "You get used to that feeling of winning and knowing how to come through when you're not necessarily playing your best and struggling. Maybe in the Slams in the past I've lost some matches where I wasn't playing my best. Maybe now, because I've won a lot more than I had in the past, I'll be able to come through them. I'm more ready to win a Grand Slam than I was last year, so I just need to make sure I play my best tennis. And I feel like I'm going to do that."

Murray thinks there are more potential Grand Slam winners this season than in the recent years of domination by Federer and Nadal. "Del Potro has beaten Federer and Nadal the last couple of times he's played them, I've won against Del Potro and Djokovic the last time I've played them, Djokovic has beaten Del Potro and Davydenko has won more against Nadal and Federer lately. A lot of the guys are beating each other now.

"There are also guys like [Marcos] Baghdatis and [Lleyton] Hewitt who are coming back and playing well again, and [Jo-Wilfried] Tsonga. There are a lot of guys who can do damage. But you never know. You have to wait and see what happens because this is only the first or second tournament of the year for people. Some guys might play well, some might be a bit rusty."

While Murray is comfortable with his counter-attacking style, he can be expected to play a little more aggressively this year. "It's not so much taking the ball on, it's knowing the right time to come to the net and understanding that part of the game a little bit more. Maybe serve and volley more. The most important thing is to choose the right time. Guys probably return the best they ever have done right now and you know how good they are from the back of the court. We've worked on what shots to come forward on."

As usual, Murray will be flying a lone flag in the men's singles, after Dan Evans, the last Briton left in qualifying, went out after taking only three games off Spain's Santiago Ventura. But with Murray on the front foot, confident, and happy to declare he is better prepared than ever, 17 may yet prove to be his lucky number.

Federer: I've been on phone to Tiger

Roger federer has been helping Tiger Woods through his recent troubles – as one of the few people able to contact the world No 1 golfer.

"He's my friend and [so] I've spoken to him and given him my support," Federer said, and added that what has happened since the revelations of Woods' extramarital adventures has "scared" him.

The record 15-times Grand Slam winner said in an interview published yesterday that Woods' car accident in November and subsequent reports about his private life have been hard on the golfer and his family. Federer told the French sports daily L'Equipe that he had expressed his support, and said Woods' troubles were "instructive".

''The tabloids are going crazy, sponsor contracts are falling apart ... I've always been aware that the image you patiently construct for an entire career can be ruined in a minute," Federer said. "It scares you a bit, but that's the way things are."

Woods has not been seen in public since the accident and has halted his golf indefinitely, but Federer is convinced that "soon he'll become the wonderful golfer that we know again".

The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition