Andy Murray has been here before. As the odds on a tartan victory at Wimbledon tumbled yesterday in the wake of Rafael Nadal's withdrawal – Murray is now 7-4 second favourite behind Roger Federer at 8-11 – the Scot might have cast his mind back to Melbourne in January.
After his own electrifying start to the year, combined with fitness issues surrounding Nadal and doubts over Federer's form, bookmakers installed Murray as the favourite to win the Australian Open. Federer and Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, were among those to express their surprise – a view that was apparently vindicated when Murray lost in the fourth round to Fernando Verdasco.
Murray, nevertheless, says such matters are of no interest to him. "Like I said at the time, I didn't care whether I was the favourite," the world No 3 said as he looked forward to the start of Wimbledon tomorrow. "A lot of the other players had issues with it, but it doesn't affect me at all whether I'm the favourite or not. You just get on with it and try and play as best you can. And if I do that I have a good chance of winning."
The 22-year-old Scot's recent Grand Slam record stands comparison with most players outside the game's big two. Since last year's Australian Open he has reached the US Open final, the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the fourth round in Melbourne.
His defeats at Grand Slam tournaments have usually come against players raising their games well above their usual level. Last year Murray was steamrollered by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round in Melbourne as the Frenchman crushed all before him en route to the final. Twelve months later Verdasco played at an intensity hitherto unseen in the Spaniard, who went on to give Nadal his toughest test in a five-hour epic in the semi-finals. In Paris earlier this month, it was Fernando Gonzalez who hit the heights, blasting Murray off the court with his thunderous forehands.
Those experiences have taught Murray that danger can lurk around every corner at a Grand Slam tournament. "Coming to Wimbledon this year, I believe I can win but I also know that I can lose in the first round," he said.
"It's happened to me before in Australia with Tsonga. Then there was the match with Verdasco. Sometimes it happens where guys play incredible matches. I feel like when I lost to Tsonga, Verdasco and Gonzalez, they played three great matches against me. I understand that can happen. That's why I need to be on top of my game from the start."
Murray's first opponent next week – he is expected to start on Tuesday – will be the 29-year-old American, Robert Kendrick, who is No 76 in the world rankings. Kendrick took Nadal to five sets at Wimbledon three years ago but has never gone beyond the second round of a Grand Slam event.
He has never beaten Murray and lost 6-0 6-0 on their only meeting on grass, in Newport, Rhode Island, three years ago. "He's a tough grass-court player," Murray said. "He obviously proved that when he nearly beat Nadal here. He has a big game, plays very aggressively and takes a lot of chances. There's no chance of me underestimating him."
The draw could hardly have been better for Murray. Ernests Gulbis could be a threat in the second round but has had a mediocre 12 months, while Marat Safin, a semi-finalist last year but now losing regularly in his farewell season, might be his most dangerous opponent before the semi-finals. At that stage Murray is likely to meet Andy Roddick or Juan Martin del Potro, with perhaps a place against Federer in the final at stake. Murray views Federer as the clear favourite and has not seen the withdrawal of Nadal, who was a likely semi-final opponent, as a benefit to his own chances. "If I got to that stage, I would have had to have won five matches before I would have had to play him. So I wasn't thinking about playing him at all," Murray said.
Murray appears to be in a relaxed mood. He did not pick up a racket at all on Friday, choosing instead to play golf and do some go-karting.
Far from feeling too much pressure playing in front of a home crowd, Murray sees it as a help. "In football, basketball and whatever, playing a home match is a huge advantage," he said. "I view tennis as being the same thing. You've got 15,000 people behind you.
"Tim Henman, I'm sure, played some of the best tennis of his career here. I think the crowd has something to do with that."
Murray said he had appreciated the value of the crowd's support during his fourth-round victory here last year over Richard Gasquet after going two sets down. "It makes it a lot easier when you are playing into the third or fourth hour of a match," he said. "It does help you stay focused and give you that extra push.
"That was the first time I'd played a match like that at Wimbledon and I really enjoyed it. I hope there'll be some more this year."
Murray has always said that he feels hard courts are where he plays best, but his victory at Queen's Club last weekend confirmed that he can perform well on grass, a surface which remains alien to many players.
"I enjoy playing on grass and I love playing at Wimbledon," Murray said. "I believe I can win a Grand Slam now. I always thought, even when I was at the Australian last year or at Wimbledon or whatever, that I could win the tournament – but I just wasn't ready to do it.
"I feel like now I am. I am ready physically and mentally and I think my game is there. Now it's just a question of putting it all together."
Four who could spoil the party
Roger Federer (Switzerland)
Fell to Nadal in the final last year when chasing sixth successive Wimbledon title. Equalled Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles by winning French Open a fortnight ago to join five other men who have won all four majors. Has not played a grass-court tournament this year, though that has not stopped him winning Wimbledon in the past.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France)
Muhammad Ali lookalike who reached the Australian Open final last year with series of stunning performances, including a straight-sets victory over Nadal in semi-finals. Attacking player with good volleys who has done well on grass in the past. Reached the fourth round in only previous appearance at Wimbledon two years ago.
Andy Roddick (United States)
Rejuvenated by coaching of Larry Stefanki and looking in his best shape for years after losing weight over the winter. Lost to Federer in Wimbledon finals of 2004 and 2005, but has not reached a Grand Slam final for three years. Has the game to win on grass and can benefit from a kind draw, particularly after Nadal's withdrawal.
Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina)
Most improved player in the men's game, up from No 62 in the world rankings last year to current No 5. A baseline player with big ground strokes who has the advantage of a towering 6ft 6in frame. Took Federer to five sets in their French Open semi-final, but did not go beyond second round in two previous appearances at Wimbledon.Reuse content