Australian Open: Andy Murray among favourites, says Leon Smith

By Kheredine IdessaneBBC Scotland in Melbourne
Amelie Mauresmo and Andy Murray during training in Australia
Coach Amelie Mauresmo is looking to help Andy Murray to success at Melbourne Park

Head of British tennis Leon Smith thinks Andy Murray is in such good condition that he must be one of the favourites for the Australian Open.

Murray, a beaten finalist three times in Melbourne, has slipped to sixth in the world from a world ranking high of two.

But Smith said: "He is in great shape. He's hitting the ball extremely well.

"Now he's going to look to move forward and I think he's got as good a chance as anyone to win this tournament."

Last season was one of recovery for Murray following back surgery, but he started this year with wins at the Hopman Cup and over Spaniard world number three Rafa Nadal in an exhibition match.

Smith believes that has put the Scot in a good position to challenge for his first Australian title - and his third major.

"There's no doubt, if you look at the way he has been playing in the Hopman Cup or Abu Dhabi in the exhibition match there, he looks very good," said Murray's former coach.

Liam Broady
Englishman Liam Broady, 21, is ranked 193rd in the world

"He's in good shape, but importantly, he played a lot of matches in the last three or four months of 2014 and there's no doubt that helped condition his body, get match fit and, importantly, build confidence and get his ranking back to number six."

Murray's chances are not helped by being in the same half of the draw as Nadal and Roger Federer, but Smith has confidence in his fellow Scot.

"Djokovic will still be the player to beat, but Andy has shown in the past that he can beat Novak," he told BBC Scotland.

"But he's playing well. That the important thing - he's got confidence back and, as he progresses through that first week, we'll see him building more momentum."

Smith is relishing the prospect of having four Britons taking part in the first round in Australia.

James Ward was handed a place after the withdrawal of US Open champion Marin Cilic through injury, while two others are one win away from the main draw.

"The last couple of matches that both Liam Broady and Kyle Edmund have played, they've looked very comfortable in this environment," said Smith.

"They are playing well and proving, certainly since I have seen them last year, their games are developing well.

Kyle Edmund
South Africa-born Englishman Kyle Edmund, 20, is currently ranked 192 in the world

"Both, in the last round of the qualifiers, have tough matches, but good opportunities and a lot to play for."

Smith thinks it augurs well for the Great Britain Davis Cup team he captains.

"It is great having an in-form Andy Murray back on tour," he said. "And James Ward just sneaking into the main draw at the last minute was a good bonus.

"He's worked very hard to get his ranking towards that top 100, but I'm sure he's going to go a lot further than that this year.

"He's in a good place to move on and, if both or one of the younger guys, Liam or Kyle, manage to progress, it would be a good start to the year for us.

"Especially as we had a bit of doubles success last week as well with Jamie Murray winning a tour title in Brisbane and Jonny Marray the same in Chennai."