Murray relishing surprise fling with stardom

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Who's Wayne Rooney? Andrew Murray's interim coach, Mark Petchey, was on the ball when he said the 18-year-old Scot would be bigger than the Manchester United and England forward. But only as a tennis player, or if he puts on a lot of weight.

The hype is in full flow, and not only in the newspapers. Petchey, the Lawn Tennis Association's manager of men's national training in addition to being a Sky television commentator, wears a sponsored redtop Sun-hat during Murray's matches.

John McEnroe, whose game bamboozled Murray during Superset at Wembley Arena last year, believes the US Open junior champion can be a top 10 player.

Indeed, Murray, who arrived with a wild card and a world ranking of No 312 - which his results so far have elevated towards the 200s - and his mum, Judy, seem to be the only people keeping their feet on the ground. And even they jump for joy after a spectacular shot.

The attention on Murray has intensified in the aftermath of his advance to today's third round, a victory coinciding with the 30-year-old Tim Henman's departure in the second round.

This afternoon brings another important experience in Murray's fledgling career. Having won two matches on the lawns at London's Queen's Club, and sampled success on Court No 2 in his debut match at Wimbledon, and on Court No 1 in the second round, he will now try and thrill the crowd by stepping into the second week of the tournament.

His opponent, the 19th-seeded David Nalbandian, of Argentina, made his first appearance on Centre Court in the men's singles final in 2002, when he was beaten out of sight by Lleyton Hewitt, of Australia, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2. "For me," Nalbandian said, "it was tough for two reasons - my first final and my first time on the Centre Court."

The sturdy 23-year-old from Cordoba is one of the best players yet to win a Grand Slam championship, his prospects to date having been scuppered by Hewitt's footwork and ground-strokes, a series of injuries, and an inability to make the final push.

A year after reaching the final here, he lost to Henman in the fourth round, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5, 6-3. That was their only meeting on grass - and Henman's only success in their five matches against each other. It is surprising that Nalbandian, who has powerful ground-strokes, a fierce return and has the ability to think his way through matches and adapt his strategy accordingly, has only won three ATP Tour titles, the latest on clay in Munich in April.

Although Nalbandian was beaten in the first round of the Rotterdam indoor tournament in February by Radek Stepanek, the Czech who fell to Murray on Thursday, the Scot still approaches his contest against the Argentinian with his catchphrase: "I will lose."

Sensibly emphasising his inexperience and the fact that his opponent has already played in a Wimbledon final, he added: "Stepanek pretty much gave me the match. Nalbandian is much more consistent than Stepanek."

Nalbandian and his advisers will have done their homework on Murray. "I know I have to be careful," Nalbandian said. "He's in the third round, so he must be playing good."

And almost everybody in the crowd will be against Nalbandian, or supporting Murray, to couch it in a more civilised, SW19 sort of way. "Everybody - not almost everybody," Nalbandian said, laughing. "Of course everybody is going to be with him. He's the only [British] player left. But I'm going to be OK. It's going to be like Davis Cup."

Murray, as a Davis Cup player (he made a winning debut in Israel in February, partnering David Sherwood), has access to the locker rooms used by the leading players, such as Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, and Hewitt.

"I feel a little bit embarrassed, actually," Murray said. "It doesn't quite feel right yet. It's not sunk in, being around those guys. I've spoken to a few including [Sebastien] Grosjean. I think all of them are really nice guys. It's just that I don't really feel like I belong, because I'm still not even inside the top 200."

The new boy relishes playing in major arenas. "I enjoy playing in front of big crowds," he said. "It's different than playing in some of the tournaments that I've been in when there's maybe five or six people watching."

Before the clouds burst yesterday, Murray left the practice courts, having pulled a Ronaldinho Barcelona football jersey over his Fred Perry tennis shirt and said his damaged left ankle was bearing up well. Ronaldinho and Perry are powerful images, but there we go with that Rooney business again.

It may be too much to expect the young Brit to deal with Nalbandian at this stage. In any case, a Murray is too good to hurry.

Murray's six senior matches

Jan Hernich

19 April, Barcelona Open, first round. Lost 6-3, 4-6, 4-6.

Murray rages at his "terrible performance" on his senior debut against the Czech. Playing on his favoured clay surface against an opponent ranked in the top 80, Murray loses after having two points for a 4-1 lead in the final set..

Santiago Ventura

6 June, Stella Artois Championships, Queen's Club, London, first round. Won 6-1, 6-2.

Murray shows he can adapt his game to grass to record his first senior victory after being given a wild card at Queen's. Ventura, a clay-court specialist from Spain is beaten in 44 minutes.

Taylor Dent

8 June, Stella Artois Championships, second round. Won 6-3, 6-3.

Murray knocks out the world No 30. Dent, the American serve-and-volley grass court specialist, is kept on the move and has no answer to Murray's passing shots and lobs.

Thomas Johansson

9 June, Stella Artois Championships, third round. Lost 6-7, 7-6, 5-7.

Murray is within two points of victory over the Swedish world No 20, when he falls and injures his ankle. Cramp sets in and he fails to win another point.

George Bastl

21 June, Wimbledon, first round. Won 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Murray shows no nerves on his senior Wimbledon debut to sweep aside the Swiss. Bastl fails to earn a single break point.

Radek Stepanek

23 June, Wimbledon, second round. Won 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Murray claims his biggest scalp with a convincing win over the Czech No 14 seed.