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Murray in firing line as young Russians rise up

Britain's Andy Murray reacts during a training session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Britain's Andy Murray reacts during a training session ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Andy Murray is ambivalent about being introduced as "Sir" when he walks on court following his recent knighthood and it is a greeting he is unlikely to receive from Russian teenager Andrey Rublev when they meet in the Australian Open second round.

Firebrand Rublev, 19, was one of two young Russians to enjoy impressive opening victories on Monday.

The qualifier, the son of a professional boxer, knocked over experienced Taiwanese player Lu Yen-Hsun while Karen Khachanov, 20, also needed four sets to beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

With 20-year-old Daniil Medvedev also on the rise, Russia finally appears to have found a clutch of players capable of filling the void left by mercurial former world number one Marat Safin.

Rublev, who keeps in shape by sparring in the boxing ring and listens to the music of Mettalica, has something of Safin's volcanic demeanour on court, as well as the shot-making skills.

He has already got under the skin of opponents and two years ago Argentine Olivo Renzo accused Rublev of intimidating him during a Challenger match in Moscow.

"I am disappointed with what happened during today's match, in which the rival played against the rules a couple of times, and threatened me," Renzo wrote in a letter of complaint.

Experienced Spaniard Fernando Verdasco described Rublev as rude after a match in Barcelona.

"He shows little respect for his opponent," Verdasco said.

Rublev, whose win over Lu was his first at grand slam level, will on Wednesday play world number one Murray - a player who can identify with the brashness of youth having burst on to the scene as a moody teenager over a decade ago.

"I know a little bit about him. I never hit with him or played against him, but I've seen him play before and he goes for it. He doesn't hold back. He hits a big ball," top seed Murray, bidding for his first Australian Open title, said.

Former junior world number one Rublev, 152nd in the world rankings, is a bit behind compatriots Khachanov and Medvedev who are both inside the top 100.

The near two-metre tall Khachanov, ranked 52nd, won his first ATP Tour title last year in Chengdu and had too much firepower for Mannarino as he claimed only his second main draw victory at a grand slam, having reached the U.S. Open second round in 2016.

The Barcelona-based player banged down 32 aces to beat Mannarino and will next face American 23rd seed Jack Sock.

Khachanov also has something of Safin in his demeanour, causing a stir when he answered his mobile phone during a doubles match last year but he is deadly serious about where he is aiming.

"This is just the beginning," he said after claiming the Chengdu title in October.

Medvedev, no relation to former world number four Andrei Medvedev, could continue the charge of the rising Russian brigade when he plays American Ernesto Escobedo on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)

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