Credit to Author: Tempo Online| Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2019 13:53:56 +0000
MELBOURNE (AFP) – Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are both gunning for a record seventh Australian Open crown from Monday, but Andy Murray will make his last appearance in Melbourne as the era of the ‘‘Big Four’’ draws to a close.
Number one Djokovic and third seed Federer face a stern challenge from the likes of youthful force Alexander Zverev, seeded four, who is still looking for a first major to cement his place as torch-bearer for the next generation.
But Murray dropped a pre-Grand Slam bombshell, breaking down during a tear-filled press conference as he revealed chronic hip pain means he will retire after Wimbledon – if he can carry on that long.
And question marks remain over the fitness of world number two Rafael Nadal who pulled out of his Brisbane warm-up but arrived in Melbourne professing he was ‘‘fully fit’’ and promising to unleash a remodelled serve.
It all means the era of the ‘‘Big Four’’ is almost over after a season in which Federer – who opens his title defence against Denis Istomin on Monday – rolled back the years on Rod Laver Arena to lift an emotional 20th Grand Slam.
It put him on a par with other six-time Australian Open winners Djokovic and Roy Emerson – although the Australian great’s victories all came before the Open era.
By contrast, the 31-year-old Djokovic endured a miserable early Melbourne exit in 2018, followed by elbow surgery and a string of disappointing results that saw him drop outside the top 20.
But since winning a fourth Wimbledon in July the Serb rose inexorably back to number one by losing only three further matches – one of which was to Zverev at the ATP Finals.
Djokovic won his third US Open in September to put him on 14 Grand Slams – three behind Nadal and six behind Federer.