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TENNIS: Agassi backs Andy

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THE MAN: Four-time winner believes World No 3 can follow first slam win with another

HE is a newly crowned champion, the centre of attention and a nation's hopes rest on him for the next fortnight -- but that's enough about Bernard Tomic.

The clamour that has greeted the 20-year-old Australian's triumph at the ATP tournament in Sydney over the weekend managed to demote Andy Murray's follow-up to his US Open title down the agenda here, and the 25-year-old Scot will not worry about that.

Tomic, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist at 18 who looked to have gone off the rails in 2011 before his fine start to this season, has provided a welcome diversion for the big three male contenders at the Australian Open.

Enormously gifted though Lleyton Hewitt's anointed successor is, when it comes to dividing the spoils at the year's first grand slam in a fortnight's time, the names involved are likely to be more familiar.

Among them is expected to be second favourite Murray, whose journey towards a projected semi-final against Roger Federer begins with a first-round game versus Dutchman Robin Haase.

History is against Murray backing up his Flushing Meadows victory with another major title as, surprisingly, no man since the Open era began in 1968 has followed his first slam win by winning the one afterwards.

However, Andre Agassi thinks the World No 3 can change all that, and his endorsement carries some weight as he perfected the art of peaking for the season's first major outing by lifting the trophy in the Rod Laver Arena four times.

"The way Andy got across the line in New York will have a huge impact on how he moves forward because he had to step up and take it -- he couldn't just wait and watch somebody implode," said Agassi.

"He had to step up in that fifth set at the US Open against the best player on the biggest stage and take it, which he did.

"If his evolution is anything like mine, that was the real light switch for me. I think once that's clicked for him, you'll see him playing to that standard for a few years to come.

"I think he's slowly come to understand what he needs to do when it comes to not being so passive. He has so many defensive skills that he does run the risk of being passive, which can get him past everybody but not two of the greatest players ever to play, not to mention Novak Djokovic, who is coming into the equation."

One of the aforementioned greats, Rafael Nadal, is again missing this fortnight amid growing speculation that he may cut hard-court tennis out of his diet all together to protect his knees.

Murray cannot worry about that and knows only too well that he cannot take anything lightly against Haase -- not to be confused with Germany's Tommy Haas -- as the Dutchman won the first two sets when they played at the same stage of the 2011 US Open.

Haase is a talented shotmaker who has been held back by injuries around his lower back, particularly last season.

He said: "I am finally getting over that and feeling better again and I can still cause Andy a lot of problems. I am convinced I can give him a good fight."

Federer, who is seeking to keep up his extraordinary record of reaching at least the quarter-finals in the last 34 slams, is another who cannot afford to get ahead of himself.

Unusually, the Swiss has not played any warm-up matches prior to Melbourne Park, skipping the Middle East altogether and not even playing a local exhibition match of any description.

The only matches he has had since being runner-up at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in November were some lucrative off-season exhibitions in South America.

He admitted the strategy was to try to keep things new after such a long career. He said: "I purposely didn't play a lead-up tournament so I would be fresh for the beginning. I think it's nice to do it slightly different sometimes, rather than every year the same thing, otherwise it feels like deja vu."

Given that he might face Tomic in the third round, and the huge-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in the fourth, it is a fairly high-risk policy.

Queenslander Tomic, when asked about his prospective third-round opponent, responded cheekily: "If he gets that far." Daily Mail

Andy Murray hits a return during a training session on Sunday ahead of the Australian Open. AFP pic


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