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All eyes will be on local favourite Andy Murray as he attempts to cap another impressive year with victory in London.

Australian Open: Andy Murray and Laura Robson can make quarter-finals

Features - Barry Cowan Posted 10th January 2014 view comments

I took enough encouragement from Andy Murray's loss to Florian Mayer in Doha last week to suggest that he can do pretty well at the Australian Open.

Andy lost the momentum after a net cord and relinquished a set and 3-0 advantage to lose in three, but he seemed content in the early stages and has no need to panic.

However, a back injury like the one he has suffered - which kept him out of the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena last November - makes you wonder whether he can recover from one tough match and have another.

Murray will combat Japan's Go Soeda in his first match Down Under

Murray will combat Japan's Go Soeda in his first match Down Under

So if Murray got to the second week in Melbourne and made the quarter-finals - where he could meet Roger Federer - I think that would be a fantastic achievement because he is not entering the tournament at the same level as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.

Andy does not know how he is going to match up physically with his opponents, but while that will make him slightly apprehensive, it also means the pressure is off somewhat.

Robson is at a real crossroads in her career and I think it's fair to say that she has not progressed as much as I expected her to.

Barry Cowan
Quotes of the week

So if he can get through the Australian Open unscathed, that will help him at Indian Wells, Miami and beyond.

Dampen

As for Laura Robson, some big questions need to be asked, as her fitness is a worry.

She headed to the Hobart International but pulled out during her first-round match with this long-standing wrist problem, so it looks like she may be trying to patch up the injury and that could be unwise.

Juan Martin Del Potro persevered when he had a wrist issue and that led to him having an operation and being out for seven or eight months, so, while I'm no medical expert, it would be a concern if Laura followed suit.

This problem means she will go into the Australian Open without the right preparation, plus she is losing matches she probably shouldn't be, which could severely knock her confidence and dampen her aura amongst her peers.

Laura - who will face Wimbledon semi-finalist Kirsten Flipkens first up in Melbourne - is at a real crossroads in her career and I think it's fair to say that she has not progressed in the last 12 months as much as I expected her to.

She had a poor year in 2013 - winning just 18 matches, albeit some big ones - and has definitely stagnated, so she needs to look at things and see whether her struggles are because of something out of her control or if is she is in anyway responsible.

The talent and shot-making ability Robson has means she - along with Canadian youngster Eugenie Bouchard - should be capable of filling the void that currently exists in the women's game and if everything clicks in Australia she could make the quarter-finals.

Laura has ferocious weapons - the second serve has been an issue but her first serve is very good - and when you hit the ball as well as she does, no player will relish coming up against her.

Favourites

Looking at the candidates to win both the men's and women's singles Down Under, I don't think there is any doubt that Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, who have won the event nine times between them, are favourites.

Nadal, for me, is marginally behind Novak in the men's, while in the next level down, which is quite long, you have guys such as Murray, Del Potro, Federer, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

But I don't see any fantastic outside bets in the women's draw.

Players like Jelena Jankovic, Sabine Lisicki, and Flavia Pennetta don't have long episodes of form behind them and only really shine on the odd week here or there, while Agnieszka Radwańska has regressed and looks as far away from a Grand Slam victory as ever.

So if Serena doesn't win in Melbourne, you cannot look past Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova.

For all the Australian Open news and views, stick with skysports.com.

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