Federer in the way of Murray's Grand Slam dream

By IVAN SPECK

Last updated at 10:57 29 December 2006


For those who hope to see Andy Murray as a Grand Slam champion in 2007, there are two words of caution — Roger Federer.

It will be a major surprise if the Swiss Meister does not again sweep up at least three of the four major tournaments in the tennis calendar.

It would be a surprise to no-one should he collect all four.

Federer stands on the cusp of immortality. By the end of February, he will have broken Jimmy Connors' record for the most consecutive weeks as world No 1.

By the middle of July, barring injury, he will have equalled Bjorn Borg in capturing five successive Wimbledon crowns.

And by the end of 2007, he will almost certainly have taken his tally of Grand Slam titles into double figures (he has nine so far) and within striking distance of the 14 of Pete Sampras.

He will at once charm us, amaze us and squeeze our collective breath. In short, Federer, still just 25, will be lord and master of all he surveys in the tennis world.

The crumbs he deigns to leave the rest will fall first to Rafael Nadal. The Spanish conquistador remains supreme on clay.

He has won his last 60 matches on the surface, including the two most recent French Open Finals, and will present Federer with a familiar riddle to solve once more at Roland Garros.

Of the rest, Ivan Ljubicic, Nikolay Davydenko and David Nalbandian will be as naggingly consistent as ever, Marcos Baghdatis will attempt to confirm that his startling emergence in 2006 was no fluke, Andy Roddick and James Blake stand as American twin peaks of power, while Richard Gasquet, Mario Ancic and Novak Djokovic will attempt to convert flashes of brilliance into Grand Slam endurance.

All of which leaves Murray to pick his counter-attacking way into the glittering dozen to watch in the upcoming 12 months.

Armed with a title in San Jose, a classy victory over Federer in Cincinnati, a world ranking of 17 and the wily, worldly ways of coach Brad Gilbert, Murray enters his third season among the great and the good as the youngster most likely to disturb the world order.

Look above all for two signs of maturity in the 19-year-old Scot.

First, more efficient victories in the early rounds of the tournaments that matter translating into consistent runs to the second weeks of the Slams and quarter-finals at least of Masters Series events.

And secondly, a channeling of his fiery temper into more choice aggression on court. It should lead to an easier — just — life for umpires and officials.

The lawns of the All England Club will be where Murray's progress is measured most eagerly.

Meanwhile, Murray Mount may just revert to its previous ownership for a last hurrah from Tim Henman, assuming that the 32-year-old's back allows him the freedom to prove that his autumn resurgence in 2005 was for real.

If Federer bestrides men's tennis, the women's game promises to be ruled by a triumvirate.

The once formidable Williams sisters no longer offer a serious threat on the circuit. Lindsay Davenport is pregnant and probably retired.

Kim Clijsters will follow suit with her injury-ravaged body at the end of this year.

So look for Justine Henin-Hardenne, Maria Sharapova and Amelie Mauresmo to carve up the major titles between them this year, just as they did in 2006, with Sharapova, who will turn 20 in April, the favourite to triumph at Wimbledon.

KEY TENNIS DATES

JANUARY

15-28 — Australian Open, Melbourne.

MARCH

5-18 — Pacific Life Open, Indian Wells.
19-April 1 — Sony Ericsson Open, Miami.

APRIL

16-22 — Monte Carlo Masters, Monaco.

MAY

14-20 — Hamburg Masters.
27-June 10 — French Open, Roland Garros, Paris.

JUNE

11-17 — The Stella Artois.

Championships, London. 18-24 — Red Letter Days Open, Nottingham.
25-July 8 — All England Championships, Wimbledon.

AUGUST

6-12 — Rogers Masters, Montreal.
13-19 — Western and Southern Financial Group Masters, Cincinnati.
28-Sep 9 — US Open, Flushing Meadows, New York.

OCTOBER

15-21 — Mutua Madrilena Masters, Madrid.

NOVEMBER

5-18 — Tennis Masters Cup, Shanghai. 26-Dec 2 — Davis Cup Final.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now