Murray hits back at Federer jibe
Andy Murray accepted the challenge of being installed as joint favourite alongside Roger Federer to win the Australian Open with a message for the man who many believe is the best tennis player of all time: "I don't get nervous when I play you any more."
Murray could not have sounded more ice cool after practising in 37 degree heat in Melbourne.
And while Federer has expressed surprise at the 21-year-old Scot being rated above world number one Rafael Nadal and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the eyes of the bookmakers, Murray was entirely comfortable with his odds.
He said: "It doesn't make any difference whether people expect you to win or not. It doesn't change my mentality.
"You get used to being expected to win matches when you play at Wimbledon. The pressure that comes with that gets you used to these situations.
"The older you get, the more matches you play, you realise what the bookies are saying doesn't make any difference once you get on court, whether they are saying good things or bad things. You just get on with your job."
Murray has done that spectacularly so far this year, having won all of his eight matches, including beating Nadal once and Federer twice.
In fact, he has beaten Federer five times in their seven career meetings, his only defeats coming in their first meeting at Bangkok in 2005 and in the US Open final last year.
Murray said: "The more you play against him the less fearful you are, you're not scared to win the match. If you're young and you play against the top guys, once you get close to winning you get nervous.
"Now when I play him I don't get nervous and if I play my best tennis I can beat him."
Both players have their own dates with history in Melbourne when the tournament starts on Monday. A win for Federer would take him level with Pete Sampras on 14 grand slam victories.
For Murray, however, there is the little matter of trying to become the first British man to win a grand slam singles title since Fred Perry back in 1936.
Not that he is letting such a burden weigh him down. He reports no problems with the back which stiffened up in Doha last week after eight matches in 11 days, although physiotherapist Andy Ireland has arrived in Melbourne as insurance.
And he is trying to put a philosophical spin on the expectation which is bound to build as the 'Fred Perry' 73-year statistic is wheeled out on a daily basis.
He said: "It has been so long since a British tennis player has won a slam. I'd love to win a grand slam, but it might not happen.
"You have to try to forget about all the history. It is not of benefit if you are going on the court worrying about those sort of things. You have to put them to the back of your mind.
"I do understand what a big deal it would be if someone from Britain did win a slam, but I'm still very young so I'm not putting any added pressure on myself to win this Australian Open.
"I'm going to enjoy being one of the favourites and give it my best. I've got a lot more grand slams to play. I'm really chilled out."
Which is just as well considering the Melbourne heat, which can rise as high as 45 centigrade at this time of year, makes the first grand slam of the year a test of stamina as much as talent.
Murray, whose work ethic with fitness trainers Jez Green and Matt Little is well documented, should have no problems on that score.
He said: "I've never minded heat too much but this temperature is a problem for everyone. Your feet burn on court and it's tough to catch your breath, but if you play on the bigger courts you usually get a bit of shade from the stadium so it's not too bad.
"I practised at one o'clock today and it was pretty grisly. Four hours in that heat is unbelievably tough.
"That's why you have to put in the work in December. But my game's coming together nicely. Very few people reach their peak in whatever they are doing at 21. That could still be two years away, but physically I'm in the best shape I could be.
"And if I play like I have been I've got a chance."
Murray, who from March will be managed by Simon Fuller, the man behind David Beckham and the Spice Girls, has another ambition. To allow people to get to know the real Andy Murray.
He said: "There's not a whole lot I want to change. When I'm on court it's clear that I'm very competitive. I love to win and give it everything I've got when I'm out there.
"I don't try to find excuses when I lose my matches and would like to think I give my opponents credit when it's due.
"The better I do the more publicity there is, which means doing more media and TV interviews. It's just making sure that you can be yourself.
"Because of the way I am on court some people might not necessarily think that I would be the nicest person to talk to. But I'm pretty laid back off the court compared to what I am on it."
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