Don't buy the mind games: Andy Murray can finally win the Australian Open

Andy Murray has played just two tour matches since his return from back surgery and doesn't expect to win the first Grand Slam of the year.

The first Grand Slam of 2014 starts next Monday and, for Andy Murray, the Australian Open will only bring memories of frustration.

Three times the Scot has reached the final in Melbourne - all in the last four years - and three times he has been beaten at the final hurdle. Twice by Novak Djokovic, once by Roger Federer.

And if Murray's most recent quotes are to be believed, it should be more of the same this time around.

“I wouldn’t expect to win the Australian Open," he told reporters. "I’m just saying that I know that I’ve trained hard and physically I’ve done a lot of good work.

"But here [his defeat to Florian Mayer in Qatar] was a perfect example of how you can be the fittest guy in the world but if you don’t play matches it’s completely different to anything we do in the gym or anything like that. It would be unrealistic to expect to win the Australian Open but I may start to feel better if I can get through a match or two."

But could the 26-year-old simply be thinking tactically?

Murray's lack of match practice (this was only his second tour match since undergoing back surgery) will certainly do his prospects Down Under no favours but the Wimbledon champion can never be discounted. By playing down expectations, Murray might just be boosting his chances.

“It’s tough to gauge,” Murray went on. “Having a day off between matches would help me and also I’m going to get fitter by playing matches, so there’s a possibility that if I can get through a couple of rounds I’ll start to feel better as the tournament goes on. My body will start to feel better.

“In terms of expectations I have no idea, to be honest. I wouldn’t like to say whether I’d be happy reaching the second week, or winning it, or whatever. I’ll have to see how the next 10 days or so go. You can get a lot done in that time.”

In Murray's own words, then, he is definitely in with a chance.

As ever in Australia, though, Djokovic will be the man to beat once again. The 26-year-old has won the tournament four times and, remarkably, claimed back-to-back titles for the last three years running. He may no longer be world number one but that will count for little when Djokovic takes to the Rod Laver Arena next week.

The Serb has been itching to reclaim top spot ever since he lost it and went on an incredible winning streak after being defeated by Rafael Nadal in the US Open final. That run culminated in another Djokovic victory at the ATP World Tour finals, while the 26-year-old has also begun work under new coach Boris Becker - a surprise appointment.

Murray will also have to watch out for Nadal himself, of course, with the Spaniard high on confidence after reaching the pinnacle of the world rankings and claiming the most recent Qatar Open.

But that is where the list ends for the British number one, for even a Murray returning from injury can match the rest of the tour on his day. Certainly, potential banana skins present themselves in the form of Juan Martin Del Potro and David Ferrer. The Scot should have nothing to fear against them on a hard court, however, while Federer is not what he once was.

So don't be fooled when the 26-year-old claims he can't win the Australian Open this year. His fitness problems will leave Murray up against it - but when has that stopped him before? 

image: © carine06