Andy Murray needs to dig deep into his reserves of self-belief to have a chance of navigating a daunting path to a first Australian Open title.
That is the view of influential coach Nick Bollettieri, who saw the sixth seed handed a tough draw for the year’s first grand slam in Melbourne on Friday.
Murray will take on a qualifier in the opening round but is seeded to meet Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov in the last 16, the man he lost to in straight sets in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year.
Seventeen-time grand slam champion Roger Federer is Murray’s prospective quarter-final opponent for the second year running – Federer won in four sets 12 months ago – with third seed Rafael Nadal seeded to be awaiting the winner in the semi-final.
Top seed Novak Djokovic is in the other half of the draw and will be expected to reach a fourth Melbourne final in the last five years, the world number one winning the title three times in succession before last year’s surprise quarter-final loss to eventual champion Stanislas Wawrinka.
“I do think Andy can contend,” said the 83-year-old Bollettieri, who has coached the likes of Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams in his long career.
“A lot of people don’t realise the injury he had (Murray had back surgery in September 2013) took longer than everyone thought to recover from because his game is built around movement; he moves really well.
“He has a good forehand and backhand and the only question mark is that second serve. It has got to be more aggressive but I look for Andy Murray to have a big year this year.
“I spoke to him today and said I think you will have a good year and he said ’I hope so.’ I said ’What are you talking about?’ You have to start telling yourself you can do these things and I think Andy Murray can.”
Murray thrashed Nadal 6-2 6-0 in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, although that marked the Spaniard’s first competitive outing since October.
Nadal underwent an appendectomy on November 3 and Bollettieri added: “Is Nadal healthy? That’s what everyone is talking about. If he is we know he’s a tough guy to beat.
“I see Federer playing extremely well. I believe his coach Stefan Edberg is a major influence by bringing him closer to the baseline and picking up the ball earlier. For Roger to win another (grand slam) I’d say ’Come forward Roger’ and he has the perfect coach to do that.”
Wawrinka opens his defence against Turkey’s Marsel Ilhan, with Djokovic drawn to face a qualifier and Nadal facing a tricky start against unpredictable Russian Mikhail Youzhny. Federer will play Yen-hsun Lu of Taiwan.
British number two James Ward, who qualified through his world ranking for the first time, was handed a tough draw against 31st seed Fernando Verdasco, but has the added incentive of a possible third-round clash with Djokovic.
Compatriots Liam Broady and Kyle Edmund will join Ward and Murray in the main draw if they can win their respective matches in the final round of qualifying on Saturday.
In the women’s event, British number one Heather Watson will take on Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, who at 67th in the world is ranked 18 places below Watson.
Top seed Serena Williams was drawn against Belgium’s world number 106 Alison Van Uytvanck, with second seed Maria Sharapova up against a qualifier.
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka, who is not seeded this year after an injury-plagued 2014 saw her fall down the rankings, takes on American Sloane Stephens in the first round, with eighth seed Caroline Wozniacki scheduled to face the winner.
Third seed Simona Halep plays Italy’s Karin Knapp in the first round with Wimbledon champion and fourth seed Petra Kvitova up against a qualifier.