Murray given comfortable draw before possible Soderling duel

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Andy Murray could be heading for an Australian Open quarter-final showdown with Robin Soderling, the man who replaced him this week at No 4 in the world rankings.

The draw for the year's opening Grand Slam event, which begins here on Monday, was made early today and was generally favourable to the 23-year-old Scot, who could have met Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals. Soderling, nevertheless, has started the year in top form, having overtaken Murray in the rankings by winning the title in Brisbane last week.

If results go according to the seedings, the winner of the Murray-Soderling match will meet Nadal in the semi-finals. Murray, who was the only player to beat Nadal in a Grand Slam tournament last year when he overcame the world No 1 in the quarter-finals here, can only meet Federer in the final, in which he lost to the Swiss 12 months ago.

Murray, who is the only Briton in the men's singles, plays Karol Beck, a 28-year-old Slovakian, in the first round. The two men have never met before. Beck, who reached his career-high world ranking of No 36 six years ago, is currently the world No 104. In the second round the winner will play either Ukraine's Illya Marchenko (world No 78) or Spain's Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo (No 74).

Elena Baltacha, the only British woman with a high enough ranking to earn direct entry into the main draw, will play a qualifier in the first round but could meet Justine Henin, the former world No 1, in the second. Baltacha finally completed her second-round match in the Hobart International yesterday but was unable to turn things around against Italy's Roberta Vinci, losing 6-3, 6-4. Kim Clijsters, who is the favourite to win the women's singles here, faces a potentially tough first-round meeting with Russia's Dinara Safina, who lost to Serena Williams in the final two years ago.

Three other British women were hoping to join Baltacha in the main draw but Anne Keothavong, Heather Watson and Katie O'Brien were among those in the qualifying tournament who spent a frustrating day waiting in vain for the rain to clear yesterday. Murray's preparations for the tournament were also affected by the weather. The world No 5 had been due to play Marin Cilic in an exhibition match at Kooyong but because of the rain had to be content with a practice session under the roof of Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park.

It was an appropriate day for organisers to announce that a number of leading players, led by Federer and Nadal, will take part in exhibition matches on Sunday to raise money for victims of the Queensland floods. Tickets sold out within hours of going on sale yesterday.