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Murray success adds uncertainty to Australian title
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While former world number one Roger Federer will begin his quest to reclaim the Australian Open, a host of talented younger players like Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will also be looking to build on their impressive 2008 rises in the first Grand Slam of the year.

Federer should have the chance to equal, if not break, Pete Sampras's record of 14 grand slam titles last season.

But Spaniard Nadal finally spread his tentacles beyond Roland Garros and first grabbed Federer's Wimbledon crown, then snatched Olympic gold in Beijing.

That failed to satisfy Nadal's hunger and he went on to end Federer's record 237-week reign as world number one just hours after the Olympic medal had been placed around his neck.

Things became even worse for Federer, winner of 13 Grand Slam titles, when Scot Murray came of age and turned out to be another bogeyman for the Swiss, improving his career record over Federer to 5-2, including a fresh drubbing in the Qatar Open in 2009.

"If the question is whether Murray is going to win a grand slam, then 'yes'," Federer said after losing his Qatar Open semifinal against the British number one.

"As the years go by, his chances increase because he is becoming a better player."

Murray also beat Federer and Nadal this month at an exhibition tournament in the United Arab Emirates.

Since May 2005, Federer and Nadal have pocketed 14 of the last 15 grand slams between them. Serbia's world number three Novak Djokovic broke that duopoly at last year's Australian Open.

Murray has yet to join the list of grand slam winners but having finished runner-up to Federer at the US Open in September.

The Briton has been touted as one of the favorites for the season's opening major after winning the Qatar Open, the ninth trophy of his career, but he tries to play down the title prospects.

"I feel good going into the Australian Open but after what happened last year I don't want to get too carried away," said Murray.

"I just need to concentrate on each match and fight hard as every round will be tough. I am one of the top guys but I don't know if I am the favourite at the Australian Open."

If he wins the Australian title, he'd be the first British man to win a Grand Slam title since Fred Perry back in 1936.

One year ago, Murray's Australian Open suffered a heartbreaking early end when eventual finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France knocked him out in the first round.

Coming into the Australian Open, Federer believes he could still dominate the game like he did before.

"I've been doing it for many years. It wasn't really a big problem. It came pretty easily, with a lot of hard work, but pretty naturally," said Federer, who won the Australian title three times.

"I was still very successful at the Grand Slam stages," he said, referring to his U.S. Open title and runners-up places at Wimbledon and the French Open.

"I just have to try to pick up some more titles on the way. Last year four titles was not so bad so hopefully I can keep that up and hopefully win some more titles."

Apart from losing to Murray in an exhibition tournament, Nadal's Australian Open preparations also hit a stumbling block atthe Qatar Open when he was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by Frenchman Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals.

The world number one had been hoping to get some much-needed match practice before the Australian Open, which starts on Jan. 19,after being injured during the final stages of the 2008 season.

"There's no damage to my confidence," said the Spaniard who last season had to wait until April to lift his first trophy of the season.

"I knew that the beginning of the season was not going to be easy because, although I have had more rest than other players, I have also had more time outside of competition than others."

Serb Djokovic also made a slow start to his defending campaign,crashing out to Latvian Ernests Gulbis in the opening round of theBrisbane International this month.

(Xinhua News Agency January 16, 2009)

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