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Never meet your role models . . . unless you do it at Wimbledon

THIS is a story about a Slovene and a Scot.

Blaz Rola and Andy Murray have never met, either personally or professionally, and their individual career paths have taken wildly differing routes to Court No.1 this afternoon. But there was at least one convergence along the way.

While Rola, the younger man by four years, lists Roger Federer as his main tennis idol, the example of poster boy Murray was inspiring enough for the teenage Rola to depart the family home in the picturesque spa town of Ptuj for a fact-finding mission to the same Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona where the teenage Scot spent such a formative 15 months.

In the end, while a travelling companion signed up, a change of heart took Rola instead to Ohio State's prestigious tennis programme, where he garnered NCAA titles in both singles and doubles. Forget all those tabloid comments about him "pooping his pants", this 6ft 4in left-hander can hardly wait to see how he measures up to Wimbledon's defending champion in person.

"I have never met Andy," said Ro la. "But of course I have seen him on TV many times and he was one of the players I looked up to when I was playing and training. Roger Federer was always my idol but I also noticed Andy when he started up because I was aware of the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona.

"I was there for one week testing if I would go and finish high school there for one year but I decided against it because I just didn't get that click. I guess the fact Andy had done so well was one of the main reasons why I was there, but also I had heard so many good stories about the academy, so I thought I might as well give it a try."

These days, Blaz the beanpole admires Murray as much for his hard graft in the gym as his all-round game. "I remember how Andy was so skinny when he was playing there and now . . . he is a beast," the 23-year-old said. "He is one of the hardest workers and definitely someone I look up to."

Perhaps we should not be surprised the Slovene seems concerned about soiling himself. Murray has an enviable 52-3 record against left-handed players who are not called Nadal, while Rola - who only last year committed himself to the tour on a full-time basis - has lost two wounding battles in the last two months to James Ward, the British No.3, at Roland Garros and Queen's Club.

Rola knows he must play better than he ever has done to succeed, and feels Murray will take the precaution of securing a briefing from Ward to try to nullify his novelty factor. "If I don't play three times better than I did against James in both matches then I have zero chance," said Rola.

"I bet Andy will talk to James a little bit about me, I think so. I can go on YouTube and watch 1000 videos about Andy. He can't do that with me!"

Slovenia is a nation of two million people, where tennis plays fourth or fifth fiddle in the public consciousness behind sports such as football, basketball, swimming and alpine skiing, where Olympic medallist Tina Haze is a huge star. Having said that, Rola is joined by Blaz Kavcic in the world's top 100 in the world tennis rankings, while Grega Zemlja has previously been as high as No.43. No wonder they can afford to lose Aljaz Bedene, who is acquiring British citizenship controversially to benefit from LTA funding.

"I have known Aljaz since we were kids," added Rola. "I know he's doing this for his own good. It's a sad thing that he's leaving us but we'll still be friends."

Whatever happens this lunchtime, Rola is already in clover on his first grass-court season. He will chide himself if he feels at any point today that he is happy just to be here. "It is Andy Murray at Wimbledon but if I can put all that on the other side and actually play tennis when the match comes around I think I can do pretty well," he said.

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