Murray plays down Australian Open chances after tricky draw
Scot is seeded four but has been out of action after surgery, favourite Djokovic is on a roll
ANDY MURRAY will face Japan's Go Soeda next week in the first round of the Australia Open. The three-time finalist returned to competition last month after a long lay-off following back surgery, but has already moved to damped expectations, insisting it would be "unrealistic" to expect him win in Melbourne so soon after his operation.
The 2013 Wimbledon champion should have little difficulty disposing of the 29-year-old Soeda, the world number 112, a tenacious if limited player. Assuming he does beat the Japanese star, the 26-year-old Murray, seeded fourth at the tournament, will face the winner of a match between two qualifiers in round two.
The bigger challenges that lie in wait include a potential quarter-final clash with Roger Federer and a semi-final against World Number One Rafael Nadal.
Murray plays Lleyton Hewitt today in Melbourne in an exhibition match as he looks to find back the form he displayed last summer in becoming the first Briton in 77 years to win the Wimbledon men's singles title.
Melbourne Park has been one of Murray's favourite hunting grounds in recent years with the Scot reaching three of the last four finals. On each occasion he has lost to Novak Djokovic and the Serb is tipped to win the title again this year after being handed a favourable draw.
Paired in the first round with Slovakia's world number 90 Lukas Lacko, Djokovic's first serious test won't come until the quarter-finals when he is likely to encounter eighth seed Stanislas Wawrinka. And with Djokovic unbeaten in four months, the world number two is understandably upbeat ahead of next week's tournament.
"Winning over 20 matches in a row in last two months, (I have) great confidence for the start of the season," he told reporters. Djokovic has recently enlisted the help of Boris Becker in a bid to regain the number one spot from Nadal and he said of the German's presence in Melbourne: "It's an honour to have Becker alongside all other team members."
Meanwhile in the women's draw, 19-year-old British number one Laura Robson faces Belgian 18th seed Kirsten Flipkens in the opening round, while all hometown eyes will be on 17-year-old Australian wildcard Ashleigh Barty. The teenager, ranked 153rd in the world, has been pitted against world number one Serena Williams. Barty has never been beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament while Williams has won 32 Major titles.
It could be the most crushing defeat seen on Australian soil since the England cricket team last donned their whites.