Tournament favourite Federer faces tough challenge
Top seed Roger Federer is the bookies' favourite to win the Australian Open, which starts on Monday. But he surely faces stronger opposition than ever in this tournament, with commentators touting Scot Andy Murray as a possible winner.
AFP - Roger Federer is the bookmakers' pick to win the Australian Open and it is hard to go past his Grand Slam dominance but influential pundits are tipping it's Andy Murray's time.
All-time Grand Slam leader Federer is gunning for his 16th major title over the next fortnight after passing Pete Sampras's previous best of 14 following last year's Wimbledon triumph.
Underlining his incredible consistency, Federer has only missed playing in one of the last 18 Grand Slam finals, his sole slip-up coming when he lost to Russian Marat Safin in the semi-finals of the 2008 Australian Open.
Yet flying in the face of the weight of opinion are seven-times Grand Slam champion John McEnroe and Australian Darren Cahill, the former coach of Grand Slam champions Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt.
They are predicting a breakthrough triumph for the young Scot Murray, who has a 2008 US Open final appearance as his best effort from 16 Grand Slams.
Murray is saddled with the burden of national expectation of becoming the first British player to win a Grand Slam since Fred Perry's 1936 US Open triumph.
Yet that has not deterred McEnroe and Cahill from throwing their lot in with the world number five for the Australian Open crown.
"I think it is his (Murray's) time," McEnroe said.
"Each time he doesn't (win a major), the pressure builds, but hardcourts are his favourite surface.
"To me, (the Australian Open) is there for the taking because there are questions about some of the other guys."
Cahill who is regarded as one of the most astute tennis judges agrees with SuperMac.
"The smart money is always on Federer, but I think it's going to be a breakthrough year for Andy Murray," he said.
"I think he's going to win one of the four majors and there's no reason why it won't be this one.
"This surface suits him, the weather suits him. There's no reason he can't kick off the year in great fashion. I'll go with Murray."
Murray, who opens up against South African qualifier Kevin Anderson on Monday, lost to Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the fourth round here last year.
"I feel like I learned a lot from what happened last year and I'll try and play better and go deeper in the tournament than I have done in previous years that's getting past the fourth round," Murray said.
"That will be my first goal."
Murray could face a fourth round duel with Frenchman Gael Monfils and is projected to meet second seed Rafael Nadal in the quarters.
Federer, who is bidding for his fourth Australian Open title, opens against Russian Igor Andreev on Tuesday and could face either Lleyton Hewitt or Marcos Baghdatis in the fourth round before a potential quarter with Russian bogeyman Nikolay Davydenko.
Davydenko, the sixth seed, has beaten the Swiss legend at their previous two meetings and could pose another test.
Nadal kicks off his campaign against Australian Peter Luczak on Monday night, while third seeded Novak Djokovic takes on Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver in the first round.
Djokovic is drawn to face French Open finalist Robin Soderling of Sweden in the quarters before a potential tilt at Federer in the semis.
Another prospective quarter-final looms between US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, the fourth seed, and Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick.