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Andy Murray is the man to beat this year, says Andre Agassi

Monday, 14 January 2013 - 10:56am IST Updated: Monday, 14 January 2013 - 10:57am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Scot's childhood hero backs him to start 2013 with slam. US Open champion faces tough opener against Haase.
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Andy Murray was such an obsessive fan of Andre Agassi when growing up that he used to wear denim shorts and a baseball cap with a ponytail attached to the back. And now it seems that the regard is mutual, for Agassi has picked him as his favourite for this year's Australian Open.

Murray opens his campaign tomorrow (Tuesday) against Robin Haase, a versatile and talented Dutchman who has given him serious trouble in the past. But Agassi believes that Murray has taken strength from last year's successes at the US Open and Olympic Games, and will now start to dominate opponents in the way that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic do.

"Heading into the year, you really have to look at Murray and Djokovic as the two in position to raise standards," Agassi said. "Heading particularly towards Australia, I like Andy.

"The way he got across the line in New York will have a huge impact on him moving forward because he had to step up and take it. He couldn't just wait and watch somebody implode. He had to step up in that fifth set and step up to the biggest situation against the biggest player on the biggest stage and take it, and he did.

"If his evolution is anything like mine, that was the real light switch that went off for me. I realised that 'I can't hope for somebody to lose. I have to want this enough to go after it.' I think once that clicks in for him, you'll see him playing to their standard [that of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer] throughout the year and for a few years to come."

In some ways, Agassi and Murray couldn't be more different. One was a wild child from Las Vegas who dated film stars, drove supercars, and confessed in his autobiography to taking crystal meth. The other is a nicely brought-up young man from a small town in Scotland who has drunk -alcohol just once (he was sick over his own shoes) and has only had one serious girlfriend.

But there is a similarity in the way that neither man was born with cast-iron conviction about his own ability. Both were prodigious talents who underachieved until they also become ferocious trainers, and so convinced themselves that they were capable of winning major titles. Just as Andre Agassi would run up sand dunes with his fitness trainer Gil Reyes, so Murray has spent the last few winters beasting his own body in Miami.

"This is Murray's year to really break through," Agassi said. "I think he's slowly come to understand what he needs to do out there as far as not being so passive. He has so many defensive skills that he does run the risk of falling into the temptation of being passive out there on the court. I think that can get him past -everybody but not the two greatest players to ever play, not to mention Djokovic, who is now starting to be part of that equation."

Passivity was part of the problem when Murray last faced Haase, an almost exact contemporary who has known him since they were both 11 years old.

That was in the second round of the 2011 US Open, when Haase won the first two sets and forced Murray to pull off one of his more cliffhanging comebacks.

"I think that was more because of his own game than mine," Haase said yesterday. "I remember in the first-set tiebreak he made a few stupid mistakes. If he wins that tiebreak maybe it was already 7-6, 6-2, 6-1 because I was carrying an injury and mentally I couldn't handle to come back at that stage.

"This year it's totally different because I feel good, I feel strong. Even if I'm two sets down I am convinced I can give him a good fight."

Haase admits that Murray has developed into a better player since their last meeting, but he believes that could be balanced out by his own improved health. In 2011, he had such a serious back problem that he was out of bed between 2am and 4am the night before the match, wandering the hotel corridors in the hope that the pain would die down.

"Andy is even more of a favourite than normal because he won the last grand slam, he won the Olympics, so he moved up a level again," Haase said. "Of course I am not happy about drawing him in the first round, but I always believe in myself and I think in this case also Andy is not that happy maybe.

"I've beaten him before and I think my game sometimes suits me to play Andy. I think it's a match where we will play some chess. Just move around and play smart and in the end my aggression will either take his queen or not."

 


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