Murray hopes to steal No 2 spot from Federer

Clay has been his weakness, but top-ranked Briton has reasons to expect better
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The Independent Online

Andy Murray had a bag stolen on his way home from the Madrid Masters last weekend. "A bit of a nightmare," he said, after his laptop, telephone and house keys were all lost. When Murray leaves the French Open, which begins here today, he will be hoping to avoid the same fate, especially as he could be returning to London with something even more valuable in the bag, namely the No 2 spot in the world rankings. He would have trouble claiming that on travel insurance.

Clay has been Murray's least productive surface in the past, but such is his recent progress that he has realistic hopes of overtaking Roger Federer over the next fortnight. The Swiss is 1,450 points ahead of the Scot, but whereas Federer has 1,400 points to defend here, having finished runner-up to Rafael Nadal for the third year in succession 12 months ago, Murray has only 150 after going out to Nicolas Almagro in the third round.

While there are many possible permutations in the rankings – not the least of which is the prospect of Novak Djokovic, the world No 4, leapfrogging both men here – Murray knows that if he reaches at least the semi-finals and betters Federer's performance he should start the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club in a fortnight's time as world No 2.

It took Nadal, world No 2 from July 2005 until August 2008, more than three years to move past Federer. If Murray overhauls the former Wimbledon champion here he will have done so in less than a month, having moved past Djokovic to world No 3, the highest ever position achieved by a British man, only a fortnight ago.

"That's what I want to try and do here," Murray said. "From the start of the tournament I've obviously got a lot to gain and, unless he wins the tournament, he's going to lose points. I could do it here at this tournament. That's not necessarily the thing that will drive me to try and win matches here, but when you get closer to achieving something like that you become aware of it.

"To overtake Roger Federer in the rankings, it's big news. It's not like it happens very often. It took Nadal a long time as No 2 in the world to do it. But I just need to concentrate on my own game and not worry about what he does."

Murray, nevertheless, might have felt even more confident before the final three days of the Madrid tournament. Whereas the Scot lost in straight sets to Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals, his game dipping sharply after he had won five of the first seven games, Federer claimed his first title of the year with his victory over Nadal in the final. It was the Spaniard's first defeat on clay for more than a year.

Nadal, chasing a fifth successive title at Roland Garros, remains favourite, but Federer is in good heart, his results having steadily improved through the clay-court season. After going out to Stanislas Wawrinka in the third round in Monte Carlo, he lost to Djokovic in the semi-finals in Rome before ending his Paris preparations with victory in Madrid. He should feel fresher than Nadal, who has played 20 matches in the last six weeks compared with Federer's 11.

"I'm in a good mood," Federer said. "My game is doing well. I feel like I'm practising well this week. I didn't have any problems adapting to the different conditions here compared with Madrid. But it's also important that I'm mentally and physically fresh at this stage – and the tournament victory in Madrid was a big boost for me."

If there are more expectations of Murray after his spectacular run of success since last year's Wimbledon, the Scot is determined not to let that affect him. "I try and block that sort of stuff out," he said. "I don't feel it makes a huge difference to how you perform. At Wimbledon everyone says there's so much pressure on me because of all the people watching. Therefore if you're at a place where fewer people know you or watch your practices then in theory there should be less pressure, but for me I view all of the Slams, all of the big tournaments, as being the same. Just because fewer people come to watch me here or watch my practices doesn't mean I don't have the same kind of intensity and focus."

Murray has a potentially tricky opening match against Juan Ignacio Chela, a clay-court specialist. He is seeded to meet Nadal in the semi-finals, but before that he might also have to beat Mischa Zverev, Feliciano Lopez, Marin Cilic and Gilles Simon. Murray, nevertheless, refuses to look beyond the first round and will concentrate on his own game, knowing he has proved that he can be competitive on clay after reaching the last four in Monte Carlo and the last eight in Madrid.

"In practice I can do it," Murray said of his clay-court game. "It's just that the matches are a little bit different, because you've got more time to think about things when you're practising. The most important thing is just to let everything flow and not force anything. I can put a little bit too much pressure on myself at times and I have to try and make sure that I don't do that here."