Andy Murray says he will not look beyond his first opponent when the Australian Open begins here in Melbourne tomorrow. Given that the man standing in his path in the third match in Rod Laver Arena is Kevin Anderson, whose towering frame blocks out most of the horizon, the Scot hardly has a choice in the matter.
Anderson, a 6ft 8in South African, is one of a new breed of tennis giants, though he has some way to go if he wants to scale the heights reached by men such as Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic. The 23-year-old world No 147 spends most of his time on the Challenger circuit, has lost in the first round on his three previous appearances at a Grand Slam and had to win three qualifying matches to earn another chance here.
This is Murray's fifth appearance at the Australian Open, which is his least successful Grand Slam event. He lost a five-set thriller to Rafael Nadal in the fourth round three years ago, but on each other occasion he has suffered disappointingly early exits, losing at the same stage to Fernando Verdasco in 2009 and to Juan Ignacio Chela and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round in 2006 and 2008.
"I feel like I learned a lot from what happened last year," Murray said. "I felt like I was playing well coming to the tournament. I had a good start in Doha and then felt like I played pretty well in the first three matches here. I didn't lose a set. Then, against Verdasco, I had a lot of chances to win and didn't take them. So there were a few things from that match that I improved on throughout the rest of the year."
Murray is seeded to meet Nadal in the quarter-finals but he is not looking that far ahead. "It doesn't affect me if Rafa's in my quarter if I lose in the fourth round or if I lose in the first round," he said.
The world No 5 said suggestions that the defending champion might never regain his best form after suffering knee problems last year were "a bit disrespectful". The Spaniard has not won a tournament since May and has lost 10 of his past 11 matches against top-10 opponents.
Murray said: "You can't say that he finished the year terribly. He had good, consistent results. He just didn't do that well against the top players.
"When you do have an injury or time out, it takes a bit of time to get back. When you start playing against the best players at the end of tournaments, they tend to be playing their best, and Rafa wasn't quite able to beat them. But you need to wait and see when it comes to the Slams and the big tournaments how he's going to come back. I'm sure he'll play well."
Louk Sorensen, a 25-year-old Irishman, will play in the first round of a Grand Slam for the first time after beating the New Zealander Daniel King-Turner in the final round of qualifying. The world No 287 now plays Taiwan's Yen-Hsun Lu.