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Four Sleepers To Watch At The Australian Open

  • Posted: Jan 13, 2019

Four Sleepers To Watch At The Australian Open

Discover who may be likely to challenge top-ranked stars in Melbourne

Stan Wawrinka
Last year, Wawrinka made his return to action at the Australian Open following two left knee surgeries in August 2017. The 2014 champion reached the second round in Melbourne, falling to surprise quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren, before struggling for form in the opening half of the 2018 season.

Since then, the 16-time tour-level champion has shown signs of his best level. Wawrinka pushed eventual champion Rafael Nadal at the Rogers Cup before forcing Roger Federer to three sets at the Western & Southern Open. The former World No. 3 rose from No. 263 in the ATP Rankings on 11 June to end the season at No. 66.

Wawrinka maintained that momentum in Doha at the start of his 2019 ATP Tour season, beating Rolex Paris Masters champion Karen Khachanov and World No. 43 Nicolas Jarry at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open before a straight-sets loss to eventual tournament winner Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarter-finals.

With a return to form and a 37-12 record at Melbourne Park, former champion Wawrinka should feel confident that he can once again produce his best tennis at the opening Grand Slam of the season. The 33-year-old will meet Ernests Gulbis of Latvia in the first round.


Milos Raonic
The former World No. 3 Raonic’s greatest Grand Slam performance to date may be his run the the 2016 Wimbledon final, but he has maintained great consistency at the Australian Open, too. Raonic advanced to the quarter-finals or better in three consecutive visits to the event between 2015-17. And the 6’5″ right-hander came within a set of reaching the championship match in 2016, as Andy Murray rallied from two sets to one down to beat the Canadian after four hours and three minutes. 

So if Raonic can return to the level he showed during that period, he may be able to challenge for the title once more. And quietly, Raonic is creeping back towards the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings. Last March, he fell as low as No. 40. But now World No. 17, Raonic has continued to improve his level, reaching three ATP Masters 1000 quarter-finals as well as the last eight at Wimbledon in 2018.

The Canadian No. 1 faces a stiff challenge right away in talented Aussie Nick Kyrgios, against whom he has split six FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings. But if Raonic can get past the home favourite, and potentially Wawrinka in the second round, that could be the slingshot he needs for a deep run in Melbourne.

Tomas Berdych
Berdych may have ended his 2018 ATP Tour season in June at the Fever-Tree Championships, due to a back injury. But the Czech quickly reminded fans ahead of the Australian Open that he is still capable of returning to his best level.

In the opening week of the season, Berdych reached his first final since 2017 Lyon at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, dropping just one set en route to the championship match (l. to Bautista Agut). Berdych enters the year’s first major with great experience at Melbourne Park, having reached the quarter-finals or better in seven of the past eight years.

Berdych will meet 2018 semi-finalist Kyle Edmund in the first round, and, if he can upset the Antwerp champion, the Czech could once again make a deep run. Since reaching his first Australian Open quarter-final in 2011, Federer is the only man ranked outside the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings to beat Berdych at the event. Federer defeated Berdych in three sets en route to the title in 2017.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Like Wawrinka, Tsonga is also climbing back up the ATP Rankings following left knee surgery. The Frenchman missed seven months of action on the ATP Tour in 2018 before returning at home in Metz last September.

Following his recovery, Tsonga managed to win just one of six tour-level matches to end the season at No. 239 in the ATP Rankings. But the Frenchman wasted little time in 2019 showing that he has plenty of tennis left in him. The 33-year-old impressed crowds at the Brisbane International, beating Thanasi Kokkinakis, Taro Daniel and Alex de Minaur in straight sets to reach the last four, where he fell to in-form Russian Daniil Medvedev. Tsonga’s win against De Minaur looks even more impressive now after the Aussie went on to clinch his maiden tour-level title at the Sydney International.

Tsonga returns to the Australian Open with confidence ahead of his opening match against Martin Klizan. The 2008 runner-up Tsonga owns a 36-11 record in Melbourne, having reached the quarter-finals or better in five of his 11 appearances. If Tsonga can defeat Klizan, his next match could be against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a repeat of the 2008 championship match.


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Murray heads long list of Britons in action on opening day in Australian Open

  • Posted: Jan 13, 2019
Australian Open 2019
Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 14-27 January
Coverage: Daily live commentaries on the BBC Sport website, listen to Tennis Breakfast daily from 07:00 GMT on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and watch highlights on BBC TV and online from 19 January

Andy Murray will play what could be the final match of his career when the Australian Open begins in Melbourne on Monday.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray faces Spanish 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut not before 07:00 GMT.

The 31-year-old Scot announced on Friday he will retire this year because of a hip injury.

“I can still play, but not to a level I’m happy playing at,” he said.

  • ‘Murray’s retirement has hit us top guys hard’ – Federer & Djokovic pay tribute
  • Oh-so-nears, tears & triumphs – how Murray helped create golden period for British sport

Bautista Agut, who beat world number one Novak Djokovic on his way to winning the Qatar Open last week, says he still expects a tough match, despite knowing Murray is feeling pain when he plays and could quit if he loses.

“Everybody knows when Andy goes on court he gives 100%. He has fought all his career and Monday’s match will be the same,” he said.

You can follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and listen to every point on BBC Radio 5 live sport extra’s Tennis Breakfast programme.

Defending women’s champion Caroline Wozniacki, seeded third, opens the night session on Rod Laver Arena – Melbourne Park’s main show court – against Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck at 08:00 GMT.

Swiss third seed Roger Federer begins his defence of the men’s title after that match, against Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin, who famously beat Djokovic here in 2017.

Second seeds Rafael Nadal and Angelique Kerber – both former champions – also play on Monday.

  • Monday’s full order of play

British invasion on Monday

Murray is one of seven Britons opening their tournaments at Melbourne Park on Monday, with only women’s number one Johanna Konta playing on Tuesday.

Kyle Edmund, who has replaced Murray as the country’s highest-ranked man, meets former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych at about 05:00 GMT in the match preceding Murray’s potential farewell match on Melbourne Arena.

First-time qualifier Harriet Dart has the honour of opening up the tournament on Laver against five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova at 00:00 BST, while Katie Boulter and Heather Watson also have early starts.

Opening on the outside courts, Boulter plays Russian Ekaterina Makarova and Watson takes on Croatian 31st seed Petra Martic.

British number three Cameron Norrie meets American Taylor Fritz not before 06:00 GMT, with qualifier Dan Evans bidding for a potential second-round match against 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer about 04:00 GMT.

‘Sharapova has always been my idol’

Dart, 22, won three matches in Melbourne last week to qualify for the main draw for the first time, landing her with a dream tie against her “idol” Sharapova.

The 31-year-old Russian, seeded 30th, won her maiden Slam at Wimbledon in 2004 when Dart was aged seven.

“She has been so successful in the game. There are many things why I look up towards her,” said the Londoner, who is ranked 131 in the world.

“I was pretty young when she first won Wimbledon, I have always looked up to her and it will be pretty cool to play her.”

Boulter, 22, says it is “incredible” to have gain direct entry to a Slam for the first time on the basis of her top 100 ranking, while 26-year-old Watson – who has won three WTA titles and is a former top 50 player – insists she still wants to achieve more in her career.

“The past couple of years have not been fantastic for me, I’ve scraped around and it is not good enough,” Watson, now ranked 108th, said.

Edmund fit but faces ‘tough’ draw on Melbourne return

Edmund, who is seeded 13th, missed last week’s Sydney International with a knee injury but insists he has no fitness concerns going into the first Grand Slam of the year.

The 24-year-old Yorkshireman is aiming to replicate his run to last year’s semi-finals, but has been given one of the toughest first-round draws possible in the shape of Berdych.

The 33-year-old Czech struggled for fitness last season, dropping outside of the world’s top 50 as a result, but showed signs of his recovery by reaching the Qatar Open final last week.

The two-time semi-finalist also has a formidable record in Melbourne, having reached at least the quarter-finals in seven of the past eight years.

“It is a tough draw to play Tomas who was a consistent top-10 player,” Edmund said.

“It is a similar feel to drawing Kevin Anderson in the first round last year, but I was in a good place and managed to come through in the fifth set.

“I’ve been feeling good on the practice courts this week and missing Sydney has been positive for my fitness and my game.”

Norrie and Evans target Federer – or each other

Norrie comes into the tournament having reached his first ATP final in Auckland last week, although he lost to American Tennys Sandgren in straight sets.

The 23-year-old, who will climb into top 70 as a result, beat Monday’s opponent Fritz on his way to the final.

And another victory in Melbourne could lead to him playing Federer – or potentially compatriot Evans – in the third round.

Evans, 28, came through qualifying to reach the main draw of a Slam for the first time since a drugs ban last year and plays Japan’s Tatsuma Ito in his opener.

“I’m fighting as hard and running as hard as I have done,” says Evans, who reached the fourth round here in 2017.

“I’m still feel a little behind but that will come with more matches – hopefully more in the main draw.”

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Signs Point Towards A Zverev Slam Breakthrough

  • Posted: Jan 13, 2019

Signs Point Towards A Zverev Slam Breakthrough

Zverev is fresh off his Nitto ATP Finals title

Alexander Zverev finished 2018 in the best form possible, defeating Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal en route to his first Nitto ATP Finals title, the biggest victory of his career. The German had claimed three ATP Masters 1000 titles, and climbed as high as No. 3 in the ATP Rankings. But this was a special performance that no one will soon forget.

Zverev will now hope that such a tremendous victory will serve as a springboard to major success. According to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone, Zverev was one of the best performers on the ATP Tour at the Grand Slams in 2018, but he still has room to grow. Last year, Zverev was tied for 11th on the ATP Tour with a 10-4 record at the majors, equating to a 71.4 winning percentage.

At 2018 Roland Garros, the German became the eighth player in the Open Era to battle through three consecutive five-setters in Paris, and the first to do so since Tommy Robredo in 2013. He lost to eventual finalist Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals. But after his win at The O2, he is ready to take another step forward.

“I don’t think I struggled during the Slams. I think there’s been a few unlucky moments for me… I’ve done really well at the French, then I got injured. I don’t know how far I could have gone,” Zverev said after triumphing in London. “The other Grand Slams, I played against a very good [Hyeon] Chung in the Australian Open, which I lost a five-set match. Wimbledon I was not prepared to play because of the injury that happened in the French. US Open I had a bad match. These things happen. It’s fine.”

Another reason for optimism is that of Zverev’s 14 career Grand Slam losses, he has fallen after winning two of the first three sets just three times, with those defeats coming at the hands of Rafael Nadal, Milos Raonic and Chung. Nadal and Raonic would go on to reach the final of the 2017 Australian Open and 2017 Wimbledon, respectively, while Chung broke through to last year’s semi-finals in Melbourne.

So it’s not as if Zverev has consistently lost advantages because of the extended best-of-five-set format at Grand Slams. And when the German has let slip leads, it has been against players who have advanced deep into the event.

To further his efforts to get over the proverbial ‘hump’, Zverev hired former World No. 1 Ivan Lendl ahead of the US Open. Lendl knows what Zverev is going through, as he reached four Slam finals before finally winning his first of eight major trophies at Roland Garros in 1984. So while their partnership didn’t yield immediate results in Flushing Meadows — Zverev lost in the third round to veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber — the German believes it might help him take the next step.

Zverev, Lendl

“He said that it’s a process of getting there. It’s a process of playing well at Slams,” Zverev said. “He told me before the tournament started that, Hopefully you’ll do very well at the US Open, but we’re more looking towards next year.”

One legend who is not concerned about Zverev’s results at past Slams is former World No. 1 Boris Becker, who first met the 21-year-old when Zverev was just 10.

“He played the past two years, apart from the Grand Slams [at a high level]. You wait as a young player to take the next step at the biggest of tournaments and at the Grand Slams, unfortunately, he hasn’t made a semi-final yet. But I think the way he performed throughout the whole week against the very best in tennis, looked to be very promising for 2019,” Becker told after Zverev’s run at the Nitto ATP Finals. “It starts with yourself. If you gain a bit of confidence, if you start beating the best tennis players in the world day after day, you deep down start to believe that you really belong there. That’s why I think it was a big breakthrough.”

You May Also Like: Becker: “Sascha Isn’t Satisfied Yet”

The Grand Slam Leaders
It’s no surprise that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Nos. 1-3 in the ATP Rankings, had the best results at the majors in 2018. Djokovic, who triumphed at Wimbledon and the US Open, earned a 21-2 record, while Roland Garros champion Nadal was 21-3, and Australian Open winner Federer was 14-2 (Federer did not compete at Roland Garros).

Those three players will be the Top 3 seeds in Melbourne, just like they were as far back as 11 years ago, when Djokovic claimed his first Grand Slam title.

The trio’s success at the Slams also extends well beyond 2018, as Nadal (87.3%), Federer (86.3%) and Djokovic (86.3%) are all inside the Top 4 in career winning percentage at the majors during the Open Era, trailing only Bjorn Borg (89.8%).

Top 4 Grand Slam Performers In Open Era

 Player  Record  Winning Percentage
 1. Bjorn Borg  141-16  89.8%
 2. Rafael Nadal  247-36  87.3%
 3. Novak Djokovic  339-54  86.3%
 4. Roger Federer  258-41  86.3%

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Evert & McEnroe Weigh In On Agassi-Dimitrov Partnership

  • Posted: Jan 13, 2019

Evert & McEnroe Weigh In On Agassi-Dimitrov Partnership

Agassi first assisted Dimitrov at Rolex Paris Masters last year

Grigor Dimitrov, the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion, decided towards the end of 2018 to make an addition to his team to perhaps spark an eventual return to the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings. The Bulgarian hired former World No. 1 Andre Agassi as a new coach alongside Daniel Vallverdu.

After Agassi flew to Paris to help Dimitrov at the final ATP Masters 1000 event of the year, the pair retreated with Vallverdu to Agassi’s hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, where they prepared for 2019.

“We spent quality weeks, about three, three and a half weeks all together. It’s great to see that everybody is on the same page right now,” Dimitrov told in Brisbane. “We see tennis, we see the game, we see sort of the whole big picture the same way. So that makes it more exciting now, and hopefully we have great success together.”

Dimitrov is not the only one excited about his partnership with Agassi. Patrick McEnroe, a 16-time tour-level doubles titlist and ESPN analyst, says that all-time great baseliner Agassi could make a real impact on the former World No. 3’s game. Agassi was known for maintaining his ground on the baseline, taking the ball early and pushing opponents around the court with his dictating style of play.

“I love to see Andre Agassi back in the mix. If he can get, what he would probably call himself, shot discipline, shot tolerance into the game of Grigor Dimitrov, that would be a huge positive because Grigor, in my mind, just has way too many options and has never really figured out how to just play meat and potatoes tennis, which is what Agassi did at his best in his prime, in his later years,” McEnroe said on a conference call. “Will Dimitrov ever be able to play exactly that style? Of course not. If Andre can get a little bit of that into his game, his mentality, that could absolutely help him.”

Chris Evert, an 18-time Grand Slam titlist, added to McEnroe’s sentiments by saying that the 20th seed at the Australian Open can benefit in more than just technique and on-court strategy from his time with Agassi.

“I think he can help Dimitrov tremendously with the mental side of the game,” Evert said. “Echoing the discipline that Agassi had, also the wisdom that he has, the training. When I think of Agassi, I picture him running up hills with sandbags on his back with [trainer] Gil Reyes [in Las Vegas]. I think he can up the intensity of the discipline and training. And Dimitrov is very respectful of former champions. I feel like he will be more motivated with Andre.”

Evert appears to be spot on with that, as Dimitrov arrived in Australia excited for what is ahead. It was as if his tough off-season work with Agassi and Vallverdu gave him a boost in every way heading into the new year. What was the experience like?

“Priceless. Nothing can put a price on that,” Dimitrov said. “We spent a crazy amount of time together, and it’s not just about the tennis, after all. The friendship and everything that we managed to build in such a time was beautiful for us.”

Dimitrov hopes that said beauty will translate into results.

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Bendigo Open: Gordon Reid wins men's doubles wheelchair tennis title

  • Posted: Jan 13, 2019

Britain’s Gordon Reid won the Bendigo Open to claim the first men’s doubles Super Series title of the year.

World number seven Reid and Argentine partner Gustavo Fernandez beat French top seeds Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer 6-3 6-3 on Saturday.

The pair were playing in their second tournament together since reaching the final of the 2015 Australian Open.

Lucy Shuker and Andy Lapthorne were runners-up in the women’s doubles and quad doubles finals respectively.

Fernandez advanced to the men’s singles final after defeating Reid earlier in the day.

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'Murray's retirement has hit us top guys hard' – Federer & Djokovic pay tribute

  • Posted: Jan 13, 2019
Australian Open 2019
Venue: Melbourne Park Dates: 14-27 January
Coverage: Daily live commentaries on the BBC Sport website, listen to Tennis Breakfast daily from 07:00 GMT on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra and watch highlights on BBC TV and online from 19 January

Swiss great Roger Federer hopes retiring Briton Andy Murray can finish his career “the way he wants” at Wimbledon later this year.

Meanwhile, world number one Novak Djokovic says he will carry “beautiful memories” from his time on and off court with the Scot.

Murray, 31, plans to retire after Wimbledon but admits the Australian Open could be his final tournament.

“The news has hit us top guys hard,” Federer, 37, said.

“I hope he can play a good Australian Open and he can keep playing beyond that.”

Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one, has been suffering because of a hip injury. He plays Spanish 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut in Melbourne at about 07:00 GMT on Monday.

You can follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and listen to every point on BBC Radio 5 live sport extra’s Tennis Breakfast programme.

  • Murray heads long list of Brits in action on opening day in Australian Open
  • Murray retirement is sad but he wouldn’t want to be making up the numbers – Henman
  • ‘Suffering’ Murray has made right decision – Nadal

Anyone would want his career – Federer

Although Federer is the defending champion at the Australian Open, and Djokovic goes into the tournament as the top seed, Murray’s impending retirement was – understandably – a prominent part of their first news conferences at Melbourne Park.

Murray has often been considered, alongside them and Rafael Nadal, as one of the ‘big four’ on the ATP Tour, even though he is well short of the Grand Slam victories recorded by his rivals.

Despite Federer turning 38 this year, and Nadal struggling with injury throughout his career, it is Murray who looks set to quit playing first after battling his hip injury for almost two years.

“I was disappointed and sad, a little bit shocked, to know now we’re going to lose him at some point,” said Federer, who has won an all-time record 20 Grand Slam singles titles.

“But we’re going to lose everybody at some point. It’s just now that it’s definite.”

In addition to his major titles, Murray also won two Olympic golds and 45 ATP tournaments, and led Britain to the 2015 Davis Cup.

“He won everything he wanted to win. Anybody would substitute their career with his,” added Federer.

“It’s a tough one, but on down the road he can look back on and be incredibly proud of everything he has achieved.”

Injury is the enemy – Djokovic

Serbia’s Djokovic and Murray were born just a week apart in May 1987, meaning they grew up together on the junior circuit before moving on to the senior tour.

The pair have regularly battled for the biggest titles, with Murray beating Djokovic to claim his first Grand Slam at the 2012 US Open and then again to become the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years in 2013.

However, 14-time Slam champion Djokovic has triumphed in five other major finals – including four at Melbourne Park.

“I will carry beautiful memories from the court and off the court with him. We’ve played lots of epic matches,” said Djokovic, who starts against American qualifier Mitchell Krueger on Tuesday.

“To see him struggle so much and go through so much pain, it’s very sad and it hurts me as his long-time friend, colleague, rival.”

The pair played together in a practice match in Melbourne on Thursday, hours before Murray made his announcement the following morning, but Djokovic insisted he was not holding back against the Scot.

“It was very obvious for everyone – you didn’t need to be on court – to notice he’s struggling and not moving as well as he normally does,” he said.

Djokovic says he can relate “a little bit” to Murray’s predicament after having elbow surgery last year before recovering to win the Wimbledon and US Open titles.

“I think his injury of the hips is something certainly far worse than my injury, because it’s obviously something he’s been carrying for couple of years,” he said.

“He’s unable, even after surgery, to get back to the desired level.

“As an athlete, injury is probably the biggest obstacle and enemy that you can have.”

Djokovic backs Gimelstob decision

Djokovic, as chair of the ATP players’ council, also faced several questions about tour politics at Melbourne Park on Sunday.

The world number one says he is “comfortable” with American Justin Gimelstob – a player’s representative on the ATP board – remaining in the role while awaiting trial later this month for an alleged assault.

Gimelstob, 41, who won two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles with Venus Williams in his playing days, is accused of punching former friend Randall Kaplan “more than 50 times” in the head.

“If he is not proven guilty, he stays innocent. If he’s proven guilty, that’s a completely different situation for us and we have to address it,” Djokovic said.

ATP president Chris Kermode’s reign is also thought to be under threat, with some players reportedly wanting the Briton to leave the role when his second three-year term ends later this year.

Some players feel the governance structure of the ATP favours the interests of the tournaments more than the players, according to the Telegraph.

“He’ll remain president until the end of his term. Whether there’s a renewal or not, it’s going to be decided in the next period,” Djokovic said.

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