Sir Andy Murray believes his coach Ivan Lendl can be the key to him ending his Australian Open hoodoo and staying as world No 1.
Murray began the first grand slam of the year against Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko in the early hours of Monday morning and for the first time at a major tournament is placed top of the rankings and No 1 seed.
The Scot has never triumphed in Melbourne, however. He has reached five finals here but lost on every occasion, four times to Novak Djokovic and once to Roger Federer.
Federer is unlikely to challenge, so soon after his extended absence with injury, but Djokovic remains Murray’s greatest threat, a six-time Australian Open champion and one eager to reassert his dominance.
Lendl has experience in waiting for a grand slam success, having needed five finals before claiming his first in 1984, and also in reigning at world No 1, after he spent a total of 270 weeks at the game’s summit.
“I do think it is a mindset thing because I think it could be quite easy that once you get to No 1 that you think, ‘well actually, I just need to keep doing what I’m doing’,” Murray said.
“The reality is in sport that things obviously keep moving on, the game will get better, I’ll obviously get older, the young guys will continue to improve, and also Novak and Roger and Stan (Wawrinka) and Rafa (Nadal) and all the guys at the top are still going to be wanting to get there.
“So that’s why having someone like Ivan on my team – who has been in that position before and knows what that’s like – has been important.
“I need to continue to improve. I, for sure, need to keep working hard.
“I don’t think necessarily working harder than I have in the past but just having the mindset I need to keep getting better and try to improve my game.
“Any weaknesses that are in my game, I need to try to get rid of them.”
It is difficult to judge whether Murray or Djokovic holds the psychological edge, given Djokovic’s remarkable history at Melbourne Park while Murray comes into the tournament as the man in form.
The British No 1 went to the top of the rankings at Djokovic’s expense in November, in the middle of a superb run that included winning five titles in a row. “I obviously feel pretty confident after the way that last season finished,” Murray said.
“I do love it here. I love the conditions. I have played really well here over the years and just haven’t managed obviously to get over the final hurdle.
“But yeah, I think I’m in a decent position, for sure, to do it. I think I have a chance to win here.
“Obviously nothing’s guaranteed. But yeah, why not? I’m playing well. Practice has been good. I feel healthy. I’ll give it a good shot.”
Marchenko, ranked 95th in the world and the brother of a former Olympic ice-skater, should pose few problems.
He took a set off a sluggish Stan Wawrinka at the US Open last year but managed only seven games against Murray when they met in the second round here in 2011.
“I don’t remember too much about that match,” Murray said.
“I saw him playing a bit at the US Open. He had a good run there a few months ago and also had a very tight match with Wawrinka there.
“He’s not easy. He fights very hard. He’s got a great attitude. He plays predominantly from the back of the court and moves well. He doesn’t give you too many free points.”
Rafael Nadal insists he would be back in Spain fishing and playing golf if he did not believe he could win another grand slam.
Nadal begins his bid for a 15th major triumph Tuesday and looking to re-establish himself among the elite after another year blighted by injury.
“If I don’t see myself, and if I don’t believe that I can be competitive, and when I mean ‘competitive’, it is fighting for the things that I fight for during the last 10 years, I will be probably be playing golf or fishing at home,” Nadal said.
“I am being honest with this. If I am here it is because I believe,” he added.
Nadal plays Germany’s Florian Mayer in the first round on Tuesday when much attention will be on the Spaniard’s physical condition and, in particular, his troublesome wrist.
Asked whether he is injured or pain-free, Nadal said: “I am not injured, no. But pain-free is a long time ago.”
As well as Murray, British interest on Monday sees Aljaz Bedene face 36-year-old Victor Estrella Burgos from the Dominican Republic.
Dan Evans, who also enjoyed success in Sydney by finishing runner-up, starts against Argentinian Facundo Bagnis.