Murray must fulfil his potential with 2010 grand slam success

Former British No 1 Greg Rusedski tells Chris Waters that 2010 is very much a year of reckoning for Andy Murray as the Scottish ace bids to up his game and go on to win his first grand slam.

CAN Andy Murray finally make the leap from contender to champion and end Britain's 74-year drought in men's grand slam singles tennis?

It is the big question on the lips of Murray's supporters as he enters 2010 aiming to become the first British tennis star to land one of the four majors since Fred Perry won the 1936 US Open.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Barring a slip-up of Herculean proportions, the 22-year-old Scot will this morning have already got his latest grand slam challenge up-and-running by dispatching the world No 147 Kevin Anderson in the opening round of the Australian Open in Melbourne.

Murray was due on court at 3.30am UK time as he attempts to claim his first major at the 17th time of asking – the same number of goes it took world No 1 Roger Federer to win his first grand slam at Wimbledon in 2003 – and was expected to make light work of the 6ft 8ins South African qualifier.

With defending champion Rafael Nadal, US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro and the incomparable Federer potential opponents from the quarter-finals, however, Murray could hardly have been handed a tougher draw at the start of a year which former British No 1 Greg Rusedski believes could be key to his development.

A frustrating, success-starved 2010 at a time when the four players above him in the world rankings all have grand slams under their belts would raise uncomfortable questions about Murray's ability to fulfil his potential and cope with pressure.

Conversely, victory in the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon or the US Open could prove the springboard for an era of prosperity.

In short, this is Murray's year of reckoning.

"I think 2010 is a massively important one for Andy Murray," said Rusedski, who was in Yorkshire on Saturday to officially open the new 700,000 refurbishment of Ilkley Lawn Tennis and Squash Club.

"The sooner he can get that first grand slam under his belt the better because it will be a serious monkey off his back.

"Once he's done that all the pressure will be off and the question won't be asked of him any more and he can just move on.

"Then you have the chance to win multiple Slams because you don't have it hanging over you all the time and you can just relax into it.

"The problem for Murray right now is that he's the only man in the top five without a slam in his pocket.

"Del Potro did it at the US Open, Djokovic did it at the Australian, and Federer and Nadal are legends of the game already.

"Murray has got the hunger and there's no reason why he can't win a slam. He's improved every year but it's all about handling pressure – that's the key.

"Murray has got the tools, he's got the game, but handling pressure is the key to winning a slam."

Rusedski, who came agonisingly close to winning a major title when he finished runner-up to Pat Rafter in the 1997 US Open, believes Murray is part of a golden age of men's tennis and feels the Glasgow-born star can eventually become world No 1.

"I think Murray has the potential to reach that level in the years ahead," added Rusedski, who himself rose to the heady heights of world No.4 on the back of his 1997 US Open adventure.

"He's in a good place right now and, if he keeps getting stronger and keeps his commitment to the game, then why shouldn't he become No 1?

"Federer is already 28 and you wonder for how long can he possibly keep up his tremendous run? Nadal in the last six months hasn't been brilliant, although he's shown good signs in Abu Dhabi and Doha.

"I don't know whether Murray could have an era of dominance like Federer, though, because the top-six are so close at the moment – they're all excellent players and it really is a golden age."

Murray was impressively single-minded in his preparation for Melbourne, the least successful of his grand slam venues.

He chose not to defend his title in the Qatar Open, opting instead to prepare and acclimatise in Australia by taking part in the Hopman Cup, where he performed impressively in patches. And as he contemplated Murray's prospects ahead of today's game, Rusedski said there was no reason why he could not break his grand slam duck Down Under.

"I definitely think Murray can win the Australian Open," said Rusedski, who retired from professional tennis in 2007 at the age of 33. "I read his statement the other day that's he's willing to mix his game up a little bit more – serve/volley once in a while, and I think that's the right way to go.

"He says he's willing to come forward and dictate a little bit more and that's what a lot of people have been saying he should do.

"Obviously he has to play defence sometimes when it comes into play, but if he can get the balance right I think he's got a very good chance.

"I think it was good that he went to Australia early because they say that for every hour you change time zones it takes a day to adjust.

"He played the Hopman Cup over there, he hasn't peaked too soon and there are a lot of positives for him."

Rusedski went on: "I also think the Australian Open can be a bit of a leveller.

"It's one of those tournaments where you can get a few surprises.

"The form book doesn't always go to plan because you've just come off the off-season and I would say that the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open are much easier to read.

"Andre Agassi really used to take advantage of that because he won a lot of his Slams at the Australian.

"He made sure his preparation for that tournament was always perfect and hopefully Murray has now done exactly the same."