Young Murray v Old Mac in a turbocharged set-to

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The Independent Online

The boys are back in town this weekend: Boris, Johnny Mac and Goran, pitting power and skills against the younger generation of tennis stars in a televised extravaganza called Superset.

The field of eight players to contest this one-set, sudden- death event at Wembley Arena also includes Greg Rusedski, Spain's Tommy Robredo, the Croatian Mario Ancic, also known as "Baby Goran", Robby Ginepri of the United States and, in place of Tim Henman, who pulled out four days ago citing shoulder and back problems, Britain's newest kid on the block, Andrew Murray.

Somehow it was inevitable that Murray, at 17 by some distance the youngest of the eight, should be drawn to play McEnroe, at 45 by a good few years the oldest, in this afternoon's quarter- finals, the others being Rusedski v Becker, Ivanisevic v Robredo and Ginepri v Ancic.

The semis and final will be played this evening. All will be decided by what is styled "a normal set of tennis", except that if the score gets to 6-6 the set will be allowed to proceed as far as 10-10 before being decided by a tie-break.

That is possibly the only "normal" thing about Superset, which will feature what the promotional blurb terms "DJs, stunning lighting, plasma screens and the latest technology to present a turbocharged sport like no other." And at the end of it all one of the eight will walk off with the first prize of £250,000 for winning just three sets of tennis.

A close relative of Team Tennis, that vaudeville version of the grand old sport, Super-set would seem to be an event made in heaven for McEnroe since, in addition to being able to exchange a word or two with a chair umpire, he will be offered the chance to dispute close calls on giant videoscreen replays, the only drawback being that if he, or any of the others, incorrectly disputes three successive decisions, it will cost them points, or even a game. And in a one-set match that could prove an expensive argument.

The Superset concept is new to the UK. In fact, it is new almost everywhere, having first seen the light of day in Portland last November when the 21-year-old Ginepri collected the quarter-of-a-million top award, in this case dollars.

As "defending champion", Ginepri had arrived earlier than anyone else for Superset II, flying in on Friday morning just ahead of a sleepy Murray, who rose at 5am to catch the first plane from Edinburgh. Apart from Rusedski, who lives in London, the others turned up yesterday.

Here, then, is a perfect opportunity for McEnroe to put his talent where the mouth normally resides, since he is regularly to be heard offering the opinion that he could still get the better of anyone in the world over one, or possibly two, sets. It will certainly come as a surprise to Mac that Murray, in effect wearing the No 12 shirt, is confident of beating one of his heroes.

The tall Scot has come on a bundle, in terms of maturity, since winning the US Open junior title three weeks ago. Drafted into Britain's team for what turned out to be a losing Davis Cup cause in Austria, he was able to practise and mingle with two more men he admires, Henman and Rusedski.

Murray is already enmeshed with the marketing folk. As a teenager standing at 413 in the big boys' rankings, an approach to him is required, for the most part, to be made via an agent. There are even moves afoot to rename him Andy, as in Roddick. However, his sensible, tennis-wise mother, Judy, sticks firmly with the name Andrew, so the intention in this corner is to do the same.

Murray says that he is "greatly excited" about facing McEnroe, adding: "This is going to be one of the biggest weekends of my life. I have never played in a tournament as strong as this, with people such as Becker and Ivanisevic who are, like McEnroe, Wimbledon champions.

"I don't have pictures of him in my bedroom, or anything like that," adds Murray, "but I have watched a lot of his videos and like the way McEnroe was on court, a character, just different. Tennis needs more players like that, maybe not quite as badly behaved sometimes, but willing to show their emotions."

Murray offers the further comment: "I am not quite like that, but if I think the umpire has made a bad line-call this weekend I am going to tell him about it. I won't be scared, either," says the youngster, who was only told on Wednesday that he would be replacing Henman.

After the excitements of today, Murray embarks on an attempt to lift his ranking by playing in a Futures tournament in Edinburgh and then Challenger events in Barcelona and Bolton.

Perhaps he will end up a Superset convert like Ginepri, whose cheque in Portland was his biggest-ever and who subsequently called the event "the most exciting tennis ever". Having made his Davis Cup debut for the United States this year, Ginepri has also sampled, for the first time, Team Tennis, as a stand-in for his contemporary and pal Roddick with the St Louis Aces.

Ginepri is not convinced that being the only competitor at Wembley to have appeared in the first Superset will afford him any advantage. "A court is a court and a set is a set," he said. "I don't even know if all of the guys are aware I won the first one."