Murray's magic mixture could bewilder Nadal

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The Independent Online

Before the start of the Australian Open Roger Federer singled out Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray as the young players most likely to challenge the established elite this season.

The world No 1 did his bit to ward off the advance of the new generation when he swept Djokovic away in straight sets here last night. Today Rafael Nadal, the No 2, will attempt to maintain the balance of power at the top of the game when he takes on Britain's Andy Murray in the showcase night match in the Rod Laver Arena.

At 20, just one year older than Murray and Djokovic, Nadal should be regarded as part of the new wave, but he has already spent 18 months with only Federer above him in the world rankings.

He has not won a tournament since the French Open or reached a final since Wimbledon, but there have been signs, particularly in his straight-sets victory over Stanislas Wawrinka on Saturday, that he is returning to his best.

John Lloyd, Britain's Davis Cup captain, has seen a lot of the Spaniard here in the last week. "He was excellent against Wawrinka and is starting to play extremely well," Lloyd said yesterday. "But Andy's playing very well too and I'd say the odds are about 60-40 in Nadal's favour.

"The fact that the match is being played at night will certainly be to Andy's advantage as far as the heat is concerned. With Nadal's strength I'm sure he would have preferred to play in the heat of the day."

Federer also tips Nadal but thinks Murray's ability to mix his game up could trouble the Spaniard. He added: "A lot depends on how Murray's serving and who takes control from the baseline. I think a hard court is a fair surface for both players. It could go either way, but I'm still going to pick Rafa on the night."

Nadal, who was said to have requested an afternoon start but will instead go on court at around 9.30pm (10.30am UK time), could win the title without playing in the sunshine. His first three matches were played under a retractable roof and the semi-finals and final are all evening matches.

Murray, through to the fourth round of his third Grand Slam tournament in succession, has yet to drop a set and played his best match yet on Saturday night in beating Juan Ignacio Chela. The Argentine had dropped only seven games in beating the Scot in the first round here 12 months ago.

Since last summer Murray has beaten five of the world's top 10 but he has never played Nadal. The British No 1, who has great respect for the Spaniard, did not give himself much chance of winning, though he thought it would be close if he could play as he had against Chela.

Djokovic failed to maintain his recent form as he was overpowered by Federer. The Serb, who is a week younger than Murray, served poorly and was on the back foot from the moment the defending champion broke in the fourth game. Federer took the first set with a trademark inside-out, cross-court forehand winner, broke at the first opportunity in the second with a majestic backhand pass down the line and was always on top in the third.

"I don't know what things he can improve on in the future, but he really plays better and better every time," Djokovic said after his 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 defeat. He's so confident, so perfect in some situations. It looks like he doesn't feel any pressure, even though he's No 1 and everyone wants to get this spot."

In the quarter-finals Federer plays Tommy Robredo, who beat Richard Gasquet in four sets. The winner will meet either Mardy Fish or Andy Roddick, who maintained his fine run with a battling five-set victory over Mario Ancic.

Murray on TV

* BBC2 will be be showing live coverage this morning of Andrew Murray and Rafael Nadal. The broadcast begins at 10.00am. Eurosport will also be showing the match live.

Battle of young warriors making big noise in the game

Andy Murray

Age 19

Born Dunblane, Scotland

World ranking 16

Year-end world ranking 2003 546; 2004 514; 2005 65; 2006 17

Singles titles 1

Height 6ft 3in

Weight 12st 7lb

Coach Brad Gilbert

Best performance in Grand Slam tournament 4th rnd (Wimbledon 2006, US Open 2006, Australian Open 2007)

Career singles wins/defeats 61/36

Career prize-money $1,005,756 (about £510,000)

Rafael Nadal

Age 20

Born Manacor, Majorca

World ranking 2

Year-end world ranking: 2001 818; 2002 235; 2003 47; 2004 51; 2005 2; 2006 2.

Singles titles 17

Height 6ft 1in

Weight 13st 6lb.

Coach Toni Nadal

Best performance in Grand Slam tournament Won French Open (2005 and 2006)

Career wins/defeats 189/53

Career prize-money $8,366,464 (about £4.24m)