Murray returns with hopes of a Canadian treble in Montreal

 

The stalls selling strawberries and cream have been replaced by hot dog stands and the grass-court shoes have been put away for another year. The north American hard-court season has been under way since the middle of last month but, for the game's leading players, the build-up to the US Open, which starts in 21 days' time, begins with this week's Montreal Masters.

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, the world's top four men, will all be making their first tournament appearances since Wimbledon in the first of two back-to-back Masters Series events, with the circuit moving next week to Cincinnati.

This week's tournament is played in alternate years in Montreal and Toronto. Murray is one of five players who have won in both cities and will be attempting to become the first to win three consecutive Canadian titles since Ivan Lendl's hat-trick in 1989. The 24-year-old Scot beat Juan Martin del Potro in the final in Montreal two summers ago and Federer in Toronto last year, beating Nadal in the semi-finals.

Murray, who has spent the last fortnight training in heat and humidity in Miami, has 1,000 ranking points to defend in Canada but also has his eyes on Federer's position as world No 3. Having been knocked out in the third round of last year's US Open, Murray knows a good run in north America over the next five weeks could see him bridge the 2,825-point gap with Federer.

This week's top eight seeds all have first-round byes. Murray's second-round opponent will be either Kevin Anderson, a big-serving 6ft 8in South African, No 37 in the world rankings, or another 25-year-old, Spain's Pablo Andujar, the world No 46. Both men have broken into the world's top 50 this year after the best runs of their careers.

In the third round, Murray could play Stanislas Wawrinka or David Nalbandian, while Mardy Fish, at No 8 the highest-ranked American, is scheduled to face the Scot in the quarter-finals. Murray is seeded to play Nadal in the last four, with Djokovic and Federer due to meet in the other semi-final.

Djokovic is making his first tournament appearance as No 1, having taken over at the top with his victory at Wimbledon. The Serb is usually at his best during the outdoor hard-court season but will need to be on top of his game. His first three opponents could be Nikolay Davydenko, Del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, and Gaël Monfils, who was meeting Radek Stepanek in last night's final in Washington.

While the men are playing in Montreal, the 24 top-ranked women in the world, along with Serena and Venus Williams, are competing in Toronto this week. Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson, the leading three Britons, all failed to qualify for the main draw. Baltacha and Watson went out in the final round of qualifying yesterday, losing to Hungary's Greta Arn 7-6, 6-3 and Slovenia's Polona Hercog 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 respectively. Keothavong was beaten 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 by Canada's Sharon Fichman in the first round of qualifying.

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