Andy Murray's hopes of reaching the Australian Open for the fourth time in his career have been handed something of a banana skin by the organisers making the draw for the tournament. Although the Scot who has been seeded number six for the event is not expected to have many problems coming through his first round match, having been paired with a qualifier as of yet to be confirmed, the route from thereon in seems fraught with dangerous opponents.
After three previous highly frustrating runner-up performances at the Melbourne Grand Slam, hopes had been high for him to put paid to the apparent hoodoo this year, after encouraging early season form in Abu Dhabi and at the recent Hopman Cup. It is likely to be a tough task for Britain's number one to come through victorious though, as both world number two Roger Federer and the powerful Spaniard and nine times French Open winner Rafael Nadal lie in wait in his half of the draw. He could also face his Wimbledon conqueror from last year, Grigor Dimitrov as early as the last sixteen. The challenging run of matches is a consequence of his drop down the rankings last year, which opens up the possibility of meeting the higher seeds earlier in tournaments.
Murray is joined in the first round by current number two Britain James Ward, who looks to have a considerable battle on his hands to make even the second round after drawing Spain's Fernando Verdasco. The left-handed world number 33 is in fine form after winning the Kooyong Classic title, following Alex Dolgopolov's withdrawal from their final through injury, and will offer a severe challenge to Ward both through his ability and the awkwardness of the leftie serve.