British No. 1 Andy Murray will begin his run in Melbourne on Tuesday evening, when he meets world No. 112 Go Soeda for a spot in the second round. This marks the first time the two competitors will meet on the professional tour.
It has been a long road back for Andy Murray. The world No. 4 has been away from the tour since he opted for back surgery in September and only returned to the to professional competiton in time for the Qatar Open in Doha. Ahead of the season-opening Grand Slam event, Murray was quite candid in his self-analysis, admitting that it would be “unrealistic” for anyone to suggest that he is capable of winning the Australian Open this year.
The Wimbledon champion holds an outstanding record in Australia and had made appearances in three of the last four finals at the event, even though he is yet to lift the trophy in Melbourne himself. It is a tournament he is comfortable with due to a variety of reasons including the court speed, which has historically bothered other top players such as world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
As it currently stands, Murray’s biggest problem ahead of the Aussie Open is the lack of real court time. He managed to compete a training camp in Miami before beginning the season but his issue is the lack of professional encounters to help him gauge his current position amongst his elite rivals. The Brit has only played two professional matches since returning from his injury, as he lost in the second round in Doha to Florian Mayer. Apart from that, Murray also played three exhibition matches, including a straight sets loss to Lleyton Hewitt in Kooyong on Friday.
The task at hand is to gently work his way through the draw, which is relatively modest in comparison to Nadal. Murray will begin his week with a match-up against Go Soeda, who is ranked outside of the top 100 in the world and if successful, will meet one of two qualifiers in the second round. His main obstacles will appear in the second week of the tournament, where he has a potential quarter-final clash with 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and a semi-final match-up against Rafa.
Japan’s Go Soeda holds a 1-1 record at the Australian Open, as he defeated Luke Saville in his first main draw match at the event before losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round. This year, he draws his toughest challenge yet in three-time finalist Andy Murray. The 29-year-old reached a career-high ranking of 47th in July 2012, but he has now slipped outside the world’s top 100.
Along with his Italian coach, Davide Sanguinetti, Soeda intends on embracing the moment and look for one a historic upset.
“He has everything – good serve, groundstrokes, movement. I need to do everything great.” He said. “Andy has already played a few matches, so it is no big deal but in the first round everybody gets nervous, so if I start well maybe I will have a few chances in the first set.”
Murray’s determination over the past couple of years is impressive, as he was able to win two Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal, while struggling with the constant pain in his lower back since early 2012. While the surgery was elective and may impact his performances early on in the year, in the long run, it will likely be the right decision for the Brit.
The big question ahead of the opening round match is whether Murray’s back issues will make him vulnerable in the early stages of the match, or whether he is fit enough to finish the contest in straight sets. Soeda may not have the most intimidating resume, but he is a player who will have nothing to lose come Tuesday evening and will undoubtedly be looking to take advantage of a potentially weakened Murray.
Prediction: Andy Murray in Four Sets