Andy Murray's fall to No 5 in the world rankings always threatened to leave him with a difficult task at next week's Australian Open and the draw, made early this morning, presented the 22-year-old Scot with a huge challenge. Murray may have to beat Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro, three of the world's top four players, if he is to win his first Grand slam title.
Murray, nevertheless, will be looking no further than his first-round opponent. He was drawn to play a qualifier, with the winner to meet France's Marc Gicquel (world No 58) or Italy's Simone Bolelli (world No 95) in the second round. Murray is seeded to meet Nadal in the quarter-finals. Should he make further progress he could then play Del Potro in the semi-finals and Federer in the final.
Britain's top two women, Elena Baltacha and Katie O'Brien, who for the first time have earned places in the main draw through their rankings, were both rewarded with first-round matches against lower-ranked opponents. Baltacha (world No 83) faces France's Pauline Parmentier (No 106), while O'Brien (No 87) plays Austria's Patricia Mayr (No 90).
Murray played an exhibition match across the city at Kooyong yesterday and enjoyed a comfortable 6-4, 6-1 victory over Sam Querrey. It was the Scot's first outdoor match of the year and the experience of playing in windy conditions would have been useful. It was so blustery that Querrey completely missed the ball while attempting one smash.
"It was windy, but I could just work on a few things like coming forward and hitting some volleys," Murray said. "I've been working on that part of my game and it worked well. I enjoyed myself."
The match was a one-off and not part of the exhibition tournament being staged this week at the former home of the Australian Open. It was not a good day for the organisers. Novak Djokovic went out, thrashed 6-1, 6-2 by Fernando Verdasco, while Del Potro withdrew with a wrist injury and Robin Soderling retired against Ivan Ljubicic with an elbow problem.
Laura Robson was among those hoping to join the other Britons in the main draw via the qualifying competition, though she was facing a difficult task in today's second round against Michaella Krajicek, a former world No 30. Twenty-four hours earlier Robson had won her first match in qualifying against Sophie Ferguson, a 23-year-old Australian.
There is sometimes barely more than one man and a possum watching qualifying matches here. You see the possums in the park outside the tennis centre, though the furry creatures appeared reluctant to venture out given that dozens of them dropped dead from the trees during the 43C heatwave earlier this week.
Although there were no reported sightings of wildlife out on Court Six yesterday there were almost as many people in the stands as you might expect when the tournament proper starts. The presence of Ferguson, the world No 148, probably brought in some spectators, but the majority appeared to have come to see her opponent, the 15-year-old British No 9 and world No 406.
Robson, who was born in this city before her Australian parents eventually settled in Britain, attracted plenty of attention here last year on her way to the junior final. Last week she became even bigger news with her exploits alongside Murray in the Hopman Cup in Perth and was rewarded with a wild card into the qualifying tournament for the senior competition here.
When she last tried to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament Robson was 4-0 up in the final set of the final round in New York only to lose after having trouble breathing while trying to fend off a panic attack. There were times when the 2008 junior Wimbledon champion again looked nervous, but her determination won the day in a 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 victory over Ferguson.
The Australian had fought her way back into the deciding set after going an early break down, but Robson played a splendid game when her opponent served at 4-5. A big forehand return, a lovely backhand cross-court winner and a cracking forehand down the line created two match points. Fighting to stay in the next rally, Robson put up a clever defensive lob which Ferguson put into the net.
"I can't remember the last time I played like that," Robson said later. "It was really windy and I obviously didn't play my best tennis, but I hung in there."
Another Briton, 20-year-old Naomi Cavaday, was facing an even tougher task today than Robson after beating Russia's Alexandra Panova 3-6, 7-6, 6-3. Cavaday was playing Belgium's Yanina Wickmayer, the world No 16, who had to enter qualifying after her successful appeal against a suspension for breaching the drugs "whereabouts'"rule came after the cut-off date for tournament entries.
A third Briton, Mel South, lost to the American Shenay Perry, while Alex Bogdanovic and James Ward went out to Turkey's Marcel Ilhan and Ukraine's Ilya Marchenko respectively. Dan Evans, who was playing Spain's Santiago Ventura today, was the only British man left in the qualifying competition.
Number of British women to reach the third round of the Australian Open in the last 19 years. Elena Baltacha achieved it in 2005.