He has avoided the draw from hell, but as Andy Murray reaches for the heavens he understands the size of his task. If the 26-year-old Scot is to end Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s singles champion at Wimbledon, which begins on Monday, he will have to win seven best-of-five-set matches over the next fortnight. The last two could be against the greatest player in history and then the current world No 1.
For once it was Roger Federer who drew the short straw in yesterday’s eagerly awaited draw, which has put the defending champion and seven-times winner on course for a heavyweight collision with his greatest rival, Rafael Nadal, in the quarter-finals. If the seedings go to plan the winner of that showdown would face a semi-final against Murray.
Novak Djokovic, meanwhile, is sitting pretty as the only member of the game’s Big Four in the top half of the draw.
If the world No 1 was the man with the biggest smile on his face, Murray should also be reasonably satisfied with his draw. Provided there is no recurrence of the lower-back injury which forced him to miss his first Grand Slam tournament for six years at the French Open last month, the world No 2 does not appear to have any banana skins in his path.
Murray, nevertheless, is not thinking beyond his first-round meeting with Germany’s Benjamin Becker. “I don’t think too much about that,” Murray said when asked for his verdict on the draw.
“You just concentrate on who you are drawn against. In a one-on-one sport it depends on how well you play on the day.”
As for the prospect of a Federer-Nadal quarter-final, the Scot said that it was “a long way away” and said it was not right to be thinking that far ahead. Murray added: “Let’s worry about it if they get there.”
Despite the statistical quirk that sees David Ferrer seeded No 4, it is hard to see anyone other than one of the awesome foursome raising the winner’s trophy aloft in 15 days’ time. Nevertheless, the closeness of the bookmakers’ odds is testimony both to the outstanding qualities of the Big Four and to the doubts that hang over each of them. Federer is the undoubted king of Centre Court, but at 31 does he have another title in him, especially as he might have to beat all of his threebiggest rivals to claim his 18th Grand Slam trophy?
Nadal could face a similar challenge and, despite his barnstorming run through the clay-court season, how much did that take out of him? Crucially, will his suspect knees survive another Grand Slam tournament so soon after Roland Garros?
Djokovic has already won here, but how much of a psychological blow was it to the world No 1 when he lost to Nadal at the French Open, which was his big goal for the year?
Murray, meanwhile, having reached the Wimbledon final last year and then earned revenge over Federer to claim Olympic gold, would have been the favourite of many observers until his back problem resurfaced, but can he now survive the rigours of a Grand Slam tournament?
While last weekend’s triumph at Queen’s Club underlined Murray’s excellence on grass, he has not played a best-of-five-sets match since the Australian Open and may lack match sharpness. “In an ideal world I would have been fit during the clay-court season because physically that’s where you get a lot of work done,” Murray said. “The French Open is very testing for you, so then when you come to Wimbledon, playing a five-set match on grass is challenging.”
Murray, however, goes into Wimbledon as a Grand Slam champion for the first time following his victory at last year’s US Open. That could prove significant.
“I would hope that I’d have a little bit more confidence and a bit more belief in all of the Slams or the big events that I play in now,” he said. “But just because it’s Wimbledon doesn’t mean that, because I won the US Open or because I played well on the grass last year, I’m going to do great there.
“There are no guarantees at all in sport. You’ve got to go in there, work hard, and be prepared to go through some tough moments and find a way to deal with them.” Learning fast, it seems, is the key. Murray added: “I think because I managed to win some big matches and play well on the grass last year,I know what I did well and what I need to keep doing. If I’d had a bad grass-court season last year, it would be hard to know exactly what to do, but I played well last year. I was aggressive, I moved well, I practised extremely well. I think I’ve definitely got a bit more confidence on the grass this year.”
If Murray finds a way past Becker –“a good grass-court player,” the Scot said – he could face an all-British confrontation in the second round with James Ward, though the latter first has to bridge a gap of 142 places in the world rankings against the experienced Lu Yen-Hsun.
Leon Smith, Britain’s Davis Cup captain, believes Ward has been playing some of the best tennis of his life since his memorable victory for his country over Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov earlier this year. “I think that really gave him a huge amount of confidence about what he can push himself mentally and physically to do,” Smith said. “Since then he’s been brilliant, the best I’ve ever seen him.”
The third Briton in the men’s draw, 18-year-old Kyle Edmund, will make his senior Wimbledon debut against the world No 22, Jerzy Janowicz. The 22-year-old Pole is a giant at 6ft 8in, but Edmund said that he would derive confidence from his victory at Eastbourne this week – his first on the senior tour – over another big server in France’s Kenny De Schepper.
“I think it’ll be a similar game style so I’ll try to get as many returns back as possible,” Edmund said. “I know he can hit hard but we’ll just have to see. All I have to do is focus on myself and put my game out there. If it’s good enough, it is, and if it’s not, it’s not. But I’m just happy that I’m here and soaking everything up.”
Andy’s way: British no 1’s possible route to the title
Benjamin Becker (Germany, aged 32, world No 95)
Lost to Murray in straight sets in their only meeting, at Queen’s Club last week. Has had a good season on grass, having reached the final at Nottingham and the quarter-finals at Queen’s.
Lu Yen-Hsun (Chinese Taipei, aged 29, world No 74)
Beat Murray in first round of Beijing Olympics but lost their only subsequent meeting in Indian Wells this year. Knocked out Andy Roddick before losing to Novak Djokovic in best run at Wimbledon three years ago.
Tommy Robredo (Spain, aged 31, world No 29)
Has made remarkable recovery from injury and at French Open became first man for 86 years to win three Grand Slam matches in a row from two sets down. Lost two most recent matches against Murray in 2009.
Janko Tipsarevic (Serbia, aged 28, world No 14)
Aggressive baseliner who has beaten Murray three times in their eight meetings. A late developer who broke into the world’s top 10 for first time at the end of 2011. Has never gone beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France, aged 28, world No 7)
Has flourished since appointing Roger Rasheed as coach at the end of last year. Loves grass and reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2011 and 2012, but has lost all four of his meetings with Murray on the surface.
Roger Federer (Switzerland, aged 31, world No 3)
The greatest player in history won his seventh Wimbledon title by beat-ing Murray in last year’s final but lost the Olympic final to him at the All England Club. May have to beat Rafael Nadal to make the semi-finals.
Novak Djokovic (Serbia, aged 26, world No 1)
Murray’s friend and rival since boyhood won Wimbledon in 2011, the year he first became world No 1. He has shown great consistency since then and will be smarting from his defeat to Nadal in the French Open semi-finals.