Author: David Archer
Published: 13:29 18/01/2013
Andy Murray is steering a steady course through the rounds at the Australian Open this week. The Scot has won two matches in straight sets and his next opponent, Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis, is a tournament qualifier rated only 110 in the WTA rankings. The two players are friends who practise together but have never faced each other at a Grand Slam before. Berankis is positive about his chances, saying "Playing a top player is always tough but the main thing is that I feel quite calm because I have practised a bit with him. It's not going to be a big surprise to see who is on the other side of the net. First time it's always, 'Wow, you're hitting with a top player', but then you calm down and just play your game. That's an advantage to me, that I'm going to be used to him." Berankis has won five matches in a row at Melbourne Park and he is full of grit, saying “To keep fighting is the main key, keep knocking on the door and hopefully it’s going to open”.
Not if Murray’s got a say in it! Although Murray describes 22-year-old Bernankis as “a really, really nice guy” the match will be strictly business and Murray is strong favourite to win. The World Number 3 is in excellent shape (evidenced by some rather tight new shirts) with his serve at its most fearsome. His 6-2,6-2,6-4 defeat of Portuguese Joao Sousa in the blistering heat of the second round was resounding - he delivered 14 aces and dominated the net – and he is confident but not complacent about his chances. He says of Berankis “He is not that tall and he hits the ball pretty big from the back of the court. He plays aggressive. He's a very flat hitter of the ball. He's obviously playing well to beat a guy like Mayer that comfortably."
Assuming Murray pulls through in Saturday’s match, he remains a strong contender to win the Australian Open. Serbian Novak Djokovic is favourite to win, with odds of 5/6 from bookmaker Paddy Power but Murray is second favourite with odds of 3/1 from Boylesports with Swiss Roger Federer third-placed.
World Number 1 Djokovic battled hard to win his third round match against the entertaining Czech Radek Stepanek 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 and remains on course to win his third consecutive Australian Open title. Djokovic will play either Sam Querrey or Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth-round.
Federer is also a serious contender, as always, and he is looking forward to his forthcoming third-round match against Australian Bernard Tomic. Federer has won four of his 17 Grand Slam titles in Melbourne and says “There’s always excitement about Aussies playing here. I played him here last year. The crowd was great”. Federer’s form this year has been excellent, with his most recent victory against Nikolay Davydenko a masterful display of attacking tennis, and he and Djokovic are likely to be the major threats to Murray’s aim of adding a first Australian Open title to his first US Open Grand Slam title won in September 2012.