Murray is the man to fear as big guns run scared

FOR a clean-living man who has done his best to avoid the limelight, Andy Murray has upset a lot of people in Melbourne. He has only been on court for 45 minutes at the Australian Open so far and yet his rivals for the silverware are already working themselves up into a lather about the Scot.

First it was Roger Federer who harrumphed about all the attention Murray was getting and now it is Novak Djokovic who is getting edgy. When the Serb was asked about Murray's position as the third contender for the title here behind Rafael Nadal and Federer, he bridled. The questioner had clearly touched a raw nerve. Djokovic is the world No3 and the defending champion – and he did not like the thought that he was being upstaged by the world No4.

"Why Andy?" Djokovic shot back. "What's his ranking and my ranking? All the respect to Andy, I like him as a person and as a player. He's done a lot in the last couple months, and he's a very talented player and we can expect him to win some Grand Slams in the future. But you cannot put him as the favourite next to Roger and Rafa and myself here at Australian Open."

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There was a lot of it about at Melbourne Park. Even Federer, who is not known to lose his cool in front of the media, shot one reporter down in flames when he misquoted the Swiss in what appeared to be an innocuous question. Federer had compared himself to Marat Safin, his third- round opponent, and described him as a former No1 and former Grand Slam champion.

"Still seems a bit strange when you said 'former champion like me'," the journalist pointed out.

"Former No1, I said," Federer snapped back. "I didn't say former champion. I said former Grand Slam champion and former No1."

"I misspoke," came the apologetic reply. "Exactly," said Federer with a look that would curdle milk.

Much of this tetchy behaviour is due to Murray. It is not the Scot's personality that has caused the problems among the world's best, but his results. Unbeaten in nine matches this year, Murray is the man everyone in the locker room fears. This morning he takes on Marcel Granollers, the world No51 from Spain, for a place in the third round and while the Spaniard has no axe to grind with Murray, he is expecting the worst.

"He's gained a lot of confidence in the last year," Granollers said. "He's obviously playing a lot of great tennis and is one of the best players in the world right now. I know him quite well because we played each other quite a bit at 18 and under and 16 and under in juniors. He's obviously a great player, but I hope I can play a good match against him.

"Even in the juniors, you could see that he had a lot of talent and that he could go quite high up in the rankings. Then he obviously started playing well two years ago and again last year and in the first month of this year. Right now I think he's the most in-form player in the game."

In their three meetings across the junior and senior circuits, Granollers has only won one match and that at a Challenger event in 2005. They last met on clay in Barcelona in 2006, when Murray won 4-6 6-4 6-2.

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The Spaniard took more than three hours to get past Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili 6-4 7-6 (7/3) 4-6 6-0 in his opening round in Melbourne, well over three times longer than Murray's first game. He is a year older than Murray but, unlike the 21-year-old Scot, he has taken his time to develop as a player.

He has only once before won a match at a Grand Slam – the French Open last year – but he got his first taste of the big time at the Davis Cup final last year. Drafted into the Spanish squad, he was not called upon to play but simply being a part of the winning team that beat Argentina taught him a lot.

"It was an unbelievable experience to be part of the team for the final," he said, "and I learned a lot about how to deal with pressure in big matches like that and I hope that experience will help me for the match with Andy."

Granollers, then, is one of the few men in town who is not rattled by the presence of Murray but, then again, he has nothing to lose today. It is the men with the big reputations who are running scared.

Since the US Open last year, where he defeated Nadal in the semi-finals before losing to Federer in the final, Murray has won ATP Master Series titles in Madrid and St Petersburg. He has also had a perfect start to this year, defeating Nadal and Federer on his way to victories in Abu Dhabi and Doha.

"My consistency in my matches has been much better," said the Scot. "I haven't been going out and sort of starting off badly and getting myself behind and having to find my way back into matches.

"Physically, as well, I'm stronger than I was last year, which has helped my serve a lot."