- Australian Open
Murray 'can be Melbourne X-factor'
Andy Murray could still be the X-factor in Melbourne and should not be ruled out for the Australian Open crown, according to coach and former player Darren Cahill.
Murray, seeded fourth for the competition, has played just four matches since returning from a three-month absence after back surgery, including a second-round defeat in the Qatar Open.
"We'll get a good indication as to how Andy is after the first couple of matches in Melbourne," Australian Cahill, a runner-up in the doubles event at the season's opening grand slam in 1989, told ESPN.
Wilko: Murray's right - he won't win
- Andy Murray is recovering from back surgery and if he is to win the Australian Open he will likely need to get past Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic following an unfavourable draw for the Scot.
- The man himself says he probably won't win in Melbourne - and ESPN's resident tennis expert and former British No. 1 Chris Wilkinson agrees.
- Click here to read the full article
"The big X-factor with Andy is that a couple of years ago, after what he's been through in the last few months, I would have given him no chance in the Australian Open.
"But now he knows how to win majors - over the last 18 months he became the Olympic gold medallist, the US Open champion and the Wimbledon champion. You put Andy Murray in the second week, and you give him a path through that's not overly taxing on his body and with not too many worries, and things change dramatically for him in my mind. He becomes a factor again.
"But it's those first two or three matches that are going to be crucial for him, to make sure he protects his body, and that he doesn't use too much gas, so he can find a way to get through to the second week."
Murray has moved to play down expectations ahead of the tournament, which starts on January 13, by stating that he doesn't think he will claim his third grand slam in Melbourne.
"What Andy said is 100 per cent correct," Cahill added. "Andy's the type of player that needs a lot of fitness and a lot of matches to be feeling his tennis legs on the court.
"At the moment because of the back operation he hasn't been able to do that. It's a logical thing for him to do, stating that coming into the Australian Open. He's set his sights on being close to 100 percent by Indian Wells and Miami, the two bigger hard court tournaments in the States right before the clay court season begins.
"To expect him to come off surgery, have a few weeks' training, play a couple of tennis matches and then win the Australian Open is unrealistic. Andy's being sensible about lowering not just his expectations but everyone else's as well.
"Andy is very in touch with all the little niggles and problems he has with his body - he's not the type of guy who can shake that off on the court. Andy's the type of guy who needs matches."
Nick Atkin is an assistant editor at ESPN. You can follow him on Twitter here.