Roger Federer isn't going to give Andy Murray too much street cred until the young Scot has earned it.
Federer had trouble containing an incredulous laugh this week when he heard that British bookmakers had made 21-year-old Murray the favorite, or at least equal favorite, to win the Australian Open.
As if it weren't bad enough that Rafael Nadal had ended the Swiss star's five-year Wimbledon reign last season and his record 237-week stretch at No. 1. Or that Novak Djokovic had beaten him in the last Australian Open — the only one of the last 15 Grand Slam tournaments not won by Federer or Nadal.
Murray "has never won a Slam. Novak is the defending champion here. Rafa (Nadal) had an incredible season last year," said Federer, who is one title shy of equaling Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam singles championships. "I won the last Slam of last season. It's surprising to hear."
Murray has only twice been beyond the fourth round at a major, his best run being a runner-up finish to Federer at the last U.S. Open.
But British hopes of a first men's Slam title since 1936 rose sharply when Murray beat Federer in an exhibition match at Abu Dhabi and in the semifinals of the Qatar Open in Doha.
For Federer, the two losses this month to Murray were a whole lot easier to take than his confidence-denting preparation for the last Australian Open.
"I didn't quite know where my game was," Federer said during the Kooyong exhibition tournament he won this week, thinking back 12 months to when he had a bout with mononucleosis.
Federer entered 2008 as a strong contender to win all four majors and ended with just one, increasing his career haul to 13. The mononucleosis prompted him to withdraw from all tournaments before the last Australian Open, where he was defending champion, and he went in cold. He said he genuinely feared a first-round exit.
He lost to Djokovic in the semifinals, and his aura of invincibility seemed to be gone. So, Federer and Djokovic are again on course for a semifinal meeting at Melbourne Park. The Swiss thinks he regained momentum by winning the U.S. Open.
"It is a good feeling to enter a Grand Slam if you have won the last one," he said.
Murray, who wouldn't face Federer until the final, said, "The more you play against him, the less fearful you are — you're not scared to win the match. ... If I play my best tennis, I can beat him."
But Federer isn't ruling out becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four majors in a calendar year.
On the eve of Friday's draw, he was asked how many more Grand Slam events he was capable of winning. His answer, delivered in his matter-of-fact manner: "Plenty."
Serena Williams can identify with that feeling. She is the No. 2-seeded woman and the reigning U.S. Open champion, though she lost decisively to Elena Dementieva in the Sydney International. "I made a lot of errors and made her look like a champ, really. I just pretty much gave her the match," Williams said.
Defending Australian champion Maria Sharapova is sidelined with an injured right shoulder. Though Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Russians Dinara Safina and Dementieva are ranked Nos. 1, 3 and 4, none has won a major.
Williams' elder sister, Venus, looms as the other leading contender and a potential semifinal rival in the draw.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun