Australian Open: Andy Murray To Make Grand Slam Return

Andy Murray of Britain leaves the court after losing against Fabio Fognini of Italy in their men’s singles match at the Shanghai Masters tennis tournament in Shanghai on October 8, 2019.
HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP

 

Andy Murray will make his Grand Slam return at the Australian Open in January, a year after career-saving hip surgery, tournament organisers announced Tuesday.

The British three-time major winner has been slowly working his way back to fitness and is now ranked 289th, up from 503rd just a week ago.

The 32-year-old won his opening match at the Shanghai Masters on Monday, beating Argentine qualifier Juan Ignacio Londero in three sets, following a quarter-final appearance in Beijing last week.

With his confidence seemingly growing by the day, Australian Open organisers said the former world number one had committed to extending his comeback into the majors in January.

“Confirmed: Andy Murray will return to compete at the #AusOpen in 2020,” they tweeted.

The official Australian Open website said Murray “will return to the main draw with a protected ranking of number two and restored physical powers”.

World number one Novak Djokovic said it was “pleasantly surprising” to see Murray back following hip-resurfacing surgery.

“Regardless of his ranking currently, he is a great champion and one of the greats of this game,” the reigning Australian Open champion said at the Shanghai Masters.

“If he’s healthy, you can definitely expect him to play at the highest level very soon.

“I wish him that, it’s great to see him back.”

Murray has made the final five times at Melbourne Park, losing four times to Djokovic and once to Roger Federer.

However, arguably his most heartbreaking moment at the season-opening Grand Slam came not on the court but at an emotional press conference before this year’s tournament.

Murray broke down in tears describing how the pain in his right hip, which had been operated on six months earlier, had become unbearable.

“I can play with limitations. But having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training,” he said, later revealing that even walking his dog had become an ordeal.

Tributes flowed for the well-liked Scot, with Billie Jean King calling him “a champion on and off court”.

Players also farewelled him in an emotional video screened on centre court after he lost an epic five-setter to Roberto Bautista Agut, with most believing his Grand Slam career was over.

“It was a very emotional Australian Open for him and for many tennis fans,” Djokovic added on Tuesday.

“But it seemed like it was too early to goodbye and it’s great to have him back.”

‘Much improved’ 

Murray said after his win over Londero in Shanghai that his movement on the court felt like it was steadily improving.

“In the beginning I didn’t necessarily feel good, but last couple of weeks have been I think much improved,” he said.

In 2013, Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon for 77 years, ending the nation’s obsession with finding a champion to follow in the footsteps of Fred Perry.

He repeated the feat in 2016, adding to a glittering career that also includes the 2012 US Open, two Olympic gold medals and 45 ATP crowns.

Australian Open organisers hope there will be another blast from the past if Belgium’s Kim Clijsters can meet her goal of taking to the court again in January after an absence of more than seven years.

A crowd favourite in Melbourne, the 36-year-old retired to have a family but made a surprise announcement last month that she was making a comeback in 2020.

Clijsters has won four Grand Slams, including the 2011 Australian Open.

AFP

Nadal Takes Positives Out Of Australian Open Defeat

pain’s Rafael Nadal reacts during a press conference after his defeat to Serbia’s Novak Djokovic in the men’s singles final on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal said he took a lot of positives out of the Australian Open on his return from injury, despite being thrashed in the final Sunday by Novak Djokovic.

The Spanish second seed had played an outstanding level of tennis at the tournament without dropping a set until he met his arch-rival on Rod Laver Arena.

And he had no answer to the world number one’s booming groundstrokes and precision serve to limp out of Melbourne Park 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Despite the rout, Nadal said he was content with being able to even reach the final given the injury problems that prevented him from playing any matches after the US Open until he got to Melbourne.

“Tonight was not my best day, and of course I had someone that played a lot better than me tonight,” he said.

“I have been going through tough moments in the last year. (I have played) only nine events and since the US Open I was not able to play until the first round here.

“Even if tonight was not my night it’s so important for me to be where I am coming back from injury.

“I really believe I played a great two weeks of tennis, there’s a good energy and good inspiration for what is coming.”

Nadal had not played a main tour event since a knee problem forced him to retire during his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in September.

The 32-year-old had surgery on his ankle in November to remove a loose intra-articular body and only resumed training in December.

He played the opening round at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi to start his season, where he lost to South African Kevin Anderson, and withdraw from the warm-up Brisbane International.

But en route to the final he emphatically shattered the dreams of three of the NextGen stars — 19-year-old Alex de Minaur, 21-year-old Frances Tiafoe, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20.

And Nadal, with 17 Grand Slam titles to his name, vowed there was more to come despite being 32 and guaranteed to be considered among the best to have ever lifted a racquet.

“I’m going to keep fighting hard to be a better player,” he said.

Australian Open: Osaka Beats Kvitova, Becomes New World Number One

Japan’s Naomi Osaka celebrates her victory against Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova during the women’s singles final on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 26, 2019. Jewel SAMAD / AFP

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka battled past Czech eighth seed Petra Kvitova 7-6 (7/2), 5-7, 6-4 to win her first Australian Open crown Saturday and become the new world number one.

The fourth seed and US Open champion made it two Grand Slam titles in a row after a see-sawing 2hr 27min match.

The hard-fought victory made Osaka the first Asian, male or female, to hold the world’s top ranking, taking over from Romania’s Simona Halep.

Jewel SAMAD / AFP

 

A rattled Osaka almost blew her title hopes with one hand on the trophy when she failed to convert three championship points when up 5-3 in the second set.

The never-say-die Kvitova won four straight games to force a deciding set before Osaka finally edged ahead with a decisive break early in the third.

 

Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova hits a return against Japan’s Naomi Osaka during the women’s singles final on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 26, 2019.
Paul Crock / AFP

 

The Japanese youngster fell to one knee in celebration, head bowed, after her epic win as Melbourne Park erupted in thunderous cheers.

It was a marked contrast to her maiden Slam win last year, when Osaka cried as boos rang around Flushing Meadows following losing finalist Serena Williams’ tirade at the umpire.

This time, Osaka wept tears of joy and smiled as she became the youngest woman to win back-to-back majors since Martina Hingis in 1998 and the youngest number one since Caroline Wozniacki in 2010.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka (L) hugs Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova after winning the women’s singles final on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 26, 2019. Jewel SAMAD / AFP

 

Her performance confirms her status as the leading light of tennis’ new generation.

 

 

Predictions of a slugfest between two of the game’s biggest hitters proved accurate as Kvitova hit 16 winners to Osaka’s 14 in the first set.

The pair had never met before and Osaka initially struggled to unlock the lanky left-hander’s serve, while Kvitova at times could not handle her opponent’s powerful returns.

The Czech mixed up her game with drop shots and changes of pace but blew three break chances in a crunch sixth game.

Serving to stay in the set, Kvitova saved two set points to force a tie-break, which Osaka ran away with 7-2 after finally appearing to get a read on Kvitova’s serve.

It was the first set the Czech had conceded in the entire tournament.

Kvitova regrouped and kept her hopes alive with the first break of the match to go up 2-0 in the second after going after Osaka’s second serve.

Osaka was frustrated but did not panic, earning three break-back points in the next game, the decisive one off a Kvitova double fault, which she conceded with a poorly hit drop shot to put the set back on level terms.

Osaka, who went into the match with a record of winning 59 straight matches after taking the first set, broke again to take control as Kvitova’s error rate climbed.

Osaka then brought up three championship points off Kvitova’s serve but the Czech saved all of them, forcing Osaka to serve for the title.

Nerves took hold as Osaka conceded a break to make it 5-5, smashing a ball into the ground and putting her hands over her ears.

She was rattled further after losing a challenge in the next, bringing up break point with a cross-court backhand but was unable to stop Kvitova holding.

The Czech then broke again to seize momentum with her fourth straight game, claiming the set as Osaka left the court with a towel draped over her head.

She regained her cool and came out firing in the third, backing herself and clipping a clean backhand winner after another Kvitova double fault brought up break point in the third game.

She still had to see off a Kvitova break opportunity in the next but held comfortably, her mental demons put to bed.

Kvitova would not surrender, saving three break points before again forcing Osaka to serve it out. Osaka managed it on the second attempt for a famous victory.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka poses with the championship trophy and the ball kids during the presentation ceremony after her victory against Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova in the women’s singles final on day 13 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 26, 2019.
Jewel SAMAD / AFP

Osaka Takes First Set Against Kvitova In Open Final

File Photo: Naomi Osaka  by EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ / AFP

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka won the first set of the Australian Open women’s final 7-6 (7/2) against Czech star Petra Kvitova as she attempts to claim back-to-back Grand Slam titles.

There was little between them in the tense 51-minute set. When Kvitova saved two set points at 5-6 it went to a tiebreak, with Osaka racing through it to take the upper hand.

Osaka Beats Pliskova To Face Kvitova In Australian Open Final

Osaka Beats Pliskova To Face Kvitova In Australian Open Final
Japan’s Naomi Osaka serves against Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova during their women’s singles semi-final match on day 11 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 24, 2019. Jewel SAMAD / AFP

 

Fourth seed Naomi Osaka outgunned Karolina Pliskova Thursday to set up an Australian Open final against Czech eighth seed Petra Kvitova.

The 21-year-old Japanese star overcame the seventh seed 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 to reach a second straight Grand Slam decider after her breakthrough triumph over Serena Williams at last year’s US Open.

Osaka started strongly to take the first set as the match began with the roof of Rod Laver Arena closed amid sweltering temperatures exceeding 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 Farenheit).

But Pliskova, who ousted American great Williams with an epic comeback to make the semi-finals on Wednesday, roared back in the second before Osaka edged past her in the third.

“I expected it, I expected a really hard battle,” Osaka said of Pliskova’s attempt to come back from a set and a break down.

“I just told myself to regroup in the third set and try as hard as I could no matter what, and I managed to win.”

She said her win at Flushing Meadows helped settle her nerves against the never-say-die Czech.

“I was so scared serving second serves, I was like ‘oh my God, please!'” she said. “I guess that’s experience, I don’t know.

Osaka is bidding to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2015 to win the US and Australian Opens back to back.

She will also become the new world number one, replacing Romania’s Simona Halep, if she beats Kvitova in the final.

Pliskova was the bookies’ favourite for the title after her effort against Williams but made a slow start, hitting only four winners to Osaka’s 16 in the first set.

The fired up Japanese also dominated on serve as she ended Pliskova’s 10-match winning streak.

After blasting down an ace in her first service game, Osaka carved out three break points on Pliskova’s serve.

A blistering backhand gave her the advantage following a baseline slugfest with the Czech.

Pliskova double-faulted to hand Osaka a second break and the Japanese star went on to serve out the set with an ace after 32 minutes.

The opening four games of the second set all went against serve as Pliskova threw everything at Osaka trying to find a way back into the match.

Osaka absorbed the pressure and continued to play her shots as the dogged Czech went on the attack.

She held on until two unforced errors, trailing at 5-4, handed a jubilant Pliskova the second set after 41 minutes.

Osaka managed a crucial hold as the third game of the third set turned into a seven-minute arm-wrestle, fending off three break points.

She then broke in the next game but Pliskova continued to press and the Japanese player had to see off break point with an ace before serving out the match.

She hit another ace on match point which was called out but successfully challenged the decision to ensure she made the final.

AFP

Australian Open: Sensational Tsitsipas ‘Surprises Himself’ With Semi-Final Breakthrough

 

Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas said he “surprised himself” with his fairytale Australian Open run after sweeping into the semi-finals on Tuesday.

The 20-year-old Greek followed his stunning win over Roger Federer by accounting for Spain’s 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who in the first round had ended Andy Murray’s tournament and possibly his career.

Tsitsipas had to contend with dropping his serve early in the first three sets before coming through 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/2) in 3hr 15min on Rod Laver Arena.

“Roberto showed some good tennis the entire week. But at the end it’s completely different of what I can picture it before going on the court, how you can imagine your opponent is going to play,” Tsitsipas said.

“I did surprise a little bit myself with my performance.”

The exciting Tsitsipas, who sports a flowing mane of long hair, became the first Greek player to go so deep at any Grand Slam and fell to the floor, head in hands after the winning point.

“It all feels like a fairytale almost,” he said.

“I’m just living the dream, living what I’ve been working hard for.

“I was asked my goals this year and said semis Grand Slam. And when I was answering this question, I thought I was crazy. But it is real. It just happened.”

Tsitsipas, who broke through in 2018 with his first ATP Tour title and won the NextGen finals, will face either world number two Rafael Nadal or unseeded Frances Tiafoe for a place in the final.

For the 30-year-old Bautista Agut, who came into his first Slam quarter-final unbeaten in 2019 after winning in Doha, the wait for a maiden major semi-final goes on.

After encountering the gifted Greek at close quarters for the first time, he still fancies either Nadal or Novak Djokovic to lift the Norman Brookes trophy.

“He’s playing very good tennis,” the Spanish world number 24 told reporters of Tsitsipas. “But here I think Rafa and Novak are my favourites.”

No Panic

Federer did not win any of 12 break points in a four-set defeat against 14th seed Tsitsipas in round four, but Bautista Agut managed it on his first in the opening game of the match.

There was no panic from the 20-year-old from Athens and he broke back before stealing the set 7-5 with a second break created by a rasping forehand winner.

Bautista Agut went 2-1 up in the second set with another early break and it was enough to level the match score.

Down another break in the third, Tsitsipas outlasted the Spaniard in a gruelling game to level at 4-4. And when the Athenian artist secured a second, Bautista Agut sensed his hopes were slipping away

“When I lost the third set, I knew I had to do a really good effort to try to win the match,” said Bautista Agut.

“I continue fighting till the end, but it was not enough.”

The gutsy Spaniard successfully served to stay in the match for the first time at 4-5 in the fourth set.

He then showed great resilience at 5-6, 30-40 to repel a first match point after a 21-shot baseline rally.

But Tsitsipas jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the ensuing tiebreak and secured the match on the first of four more match points.

‘Just Getting Started’, Serena Says As She Marches Into Last 16 Of Australian Open

 

Serena Williams has said there is more to offer as she marched into the Australian Open last 16 Saturday.

Williams said she was still improving after swatting aside Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska 6-2, 6-1 in a Melbourne Park mauling.

The 37-year-old, who is in the hunt for her first Grand Slam since having a baby, comforted the youngster at the net, telling her: “You did amazing, you’re gonna make it, don’t cry”.

But Williams, who is in ominous form and has dropped only nine games in her opening three matches, also had a message for her rivals, saying she was not yet at the top of her game.

“I think I’m getting there. I don’t feel like I’m there yet,” she said. “I feel like I’m still getting there.”

Williams will face either sister Venus, who is unseeded this year, or world number one Simona Halep in the next round.

READ ALSO: Djokovic Fights Past Shapovalov In Four Sets At Open

The 37-year-old won her 23rd Grand Slam Down Under two years ago while two months pregnant and is the bookies’ favourite to claim an eighth Australian title, despite being seeded 16th.

Another major would match Margaret Court’s tally and Williams is focused as she chases down the Australian great’s record.

“I’m here, I’m playing as hard as I can and doing the best I can, which is really all I can do,” she said.

‘Broke my heart’

Yastremska was not even born when the American won her first major at Flushing Meadows in 1999.

Williams said she did not like to see an opponent so distressed but she appreciated that Yastremska cared so much about trying to win their match and “came out swinging”.

“I kind of liked that. It shows she wasn’t just there to play a good match, she was there to win,” the American said. “She wanted to win. That really broke my heart.”

Her compassion contrasted with Maria Sharapova’s attitude when she left Harriet Dart in tears after serving the Briton a 6-0, 6-0 “double bagel” in the first round.

“There’s no time for that, I’m sorry to say,” the Russian responded when asked if she had any sympathy for her opponent.

Yastremska’s only previous appearance at a Grand Slam was a first round exit at last year’s US Open and she looked like roadkill as soon as Williams raced to a 4-0 lead in the first set.

The Ukrainian managed to hold serve twice in the first set, prompting wild applause from the crowd but was powerless to stop Williams taking the first set 6-2 after 27 minutes.

Williams was equally relentless in the second, breaking Yastremska and allowing the teen to score only four points off her serve as she went up 4-1.

Yastremska had treatment on her right foot but it was only delaying the inevitable and Williams took just a few minutes to bring up match point after play resumed.

She hit her first chance into the net but completed the win after Yastremska sent a return wide.

Djokovic Fights Past Shapovalov In Four Sets At Open

 

Top seed Novak Djokovic angrily blamed floodlights for dropping a set for the first time at this year’s Australian Open after beating Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 on Saturday.

The Serb is looking for a record seventh Aussie crown but was left fuming when leading 3-0 in the third set against the 25th-seeded Canadian when the powerful lights blazed on all around Rod Laver Arena — in bright sunshine.

An irritated Djokovic lost his focus completely and dropped six of the next seven games after querying French umpire Damien Dumusois why the lights were on.

“I think there was no sense to turn on lights on court at 5pm when we have another four hours of daylight,” fumed the Serb 17-time Grand Slam winner.

“Did you guys see the balls well?,” he asked the crowd.

“I saw them well too,” he said to a huge cheer.

“Completely unnecessary to turn on the lights. The explanation I got was for TV reasons. I hope the viewers enjoyed it,” he added.

The normally mild-mannered Djokovic even received a code violation for verbally jousting with someone in the crowd who shouted “Nervous?”, as he faced three break points at 4-4, 0-40 in the third set.

Up till his mini-meltdown, Djokovic had made his outing on centre court look like an afternoon practice session for two-and-a-half sets against Shapovalov, one of the NextGen stars tipped to take over from the sport’s old guard.

Top spot secured

He skilfully dominated the 19-year-old, who could not find enough winners to throw the 14-time Grand Slam winner off his stride until a TV director’s decision gave him a helping hand.

Djokovic took the opening stanza in a routine 35 minutes and looked as if he would easily extend his winning streak against left-handers at Grand Slams to 18 matches.

The last leftie to beat him at a major was Rafael Nadal in the final at Roland Garros in 2014.

Djokovic left the court at the end of the third set and came back a new man, unloading a massive primal scream to relieve his tension as he broke for 2-0 before closing out the whirlwind last set in a match that lasted 2hr 22min.

Djokovic’s victory means he is guaranteed to stay world number one when the new rankings are released after the tournament.

He next plays another young gun, Russia’s 22-year-old 15th seed Daniil Medvedev.

Fourth Seed Zverev Scrapes Into Australian Open Third Round

Germany’s Alexander Zverev celebrates his victory against France’s Jeremy Chardy during their men’s singles match on day four of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 17, 2019. Greg Wood / AFP

 

Alexander Zverev almost blew his quest for a maiden Grand Slam title Thursday before registering a gritty five-set win over France’s Jeremy Chardy in the Australian Open second round.

The fourth seed looked far from his anointed status as the flag-bearer for the next generation as he failed time and again to put away the veteran before winning 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 5-7, 6-7 (6/8), 6-1.

The 21-year-old German will face young Australian wildcard Alex Bolt in the last 32 after eventually winning in 3hr 42min on Margaret Court Arena.

Watched by concerned coach Ivan Lendl, Zverev threw away four break points in the third set and four more and a match point in the fourth.

The dogged Frenchman, the world number 36, would not lie down and extended the match beyond midnight with Zverev finally securing match point at the 12.15am local time Friday (1315 GMT Thursday).

“Tha was amazing,” said Zverev after the pair had embraced warmly at the net. “He’s very close to me on tour so it was always going to be an entertaining match.”

In-form Zverev began the year with a run to the final of the mixed teams Hopman Cup following his breakthrough victory over Novak Djokovic at the ATP Tour Finals last season.

But he knows he needs to win a Grand Slam soon to cement his place as a serious contender to end the major monopoly enjoyed by the old guard of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic.

So far, he has reached just one quarter-final in 14 appearances on the game’s biggest stages, losing to Dominic Thiem in the last eight at the 2018 French Open despite having won 10 ATP titles.

He has never got beyond the third round in Melbourne. Last year, seeded four, he crashed out at that stage to South Korea’s Chung Hyeon.

But it was the manner of his win in London in November — dismissing Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 a day after a 7-5, 7-6 triumph over Federer — that had people believing the German had turned the corner and would be a major force in 2019.

AFP

Aggressive Champion Wozniacki Storms Into Open Third Round

Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki hits a return against Sweden’s Johanna Larsson during their women’s singles match on day three of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 16, 2019. Paul Crock / AFP

 

Aggressive defending champion Caroline Wozniacki powered into the Australian Open third round Wednesday with a confidence-boosting romp over Sweden’s Johanna Larsson.

The third seeded Dane snuffed out a late rally from the world number 77 to win 6-1, 6-3 and continue her bid to become the first woman to defend the Australian title since Victoria Azarenka in 2013.

Wozniacki moved freely, showing no sign of rheumatoid arthritis that has threatened to derail her career, with the win potentially setting up a glamour third round clash with Russia’s Maria Sharapova, who plays later.

“I thought I started pretty well, started aggressively, but she started making less errors and I was just trying to stay consistent,” the 28-year-old said.

Wozniacki came out of the blocks quickly, leaving Larsson reeling as she conceded only two points on the way to a 3-0 lead.

The Swede regrouped from the early onslaught but Wozniacki continued to dictate terms and showed no signs of fatigue as she moved Larsson around the court during long rallies.

She wrapped up the first set in 27 minutes, pouncing on Larsson’s popgun serve and coping easily when the Swede tried to put her under pressure by attacking the net, making 95 percent of her returns.

Wozniacki’s intensity eased slightly in the second set and there was a minor wobble late in the match when Larsson threatened a break.

“She started making less errors, playing it deep, coming into the net and threw my timing off a little bit,” she said.

“I just tried to stay as aggressive as I could be until the and I think I served well when I had to.”

Wozniacki said she felt no additional pressure coming into the tournament as defending champion and was enjoying her campaign after two straight sets wins in the opening rounds.

“It feels amazing. I felt at home straight away when I got here,” she said.

AFP

Djokovic, Halep Top Seeds At Australian Open

Simona Halep of Romania plays a forehand shot during a practice session in Melbourne on January 10, 2019, ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament. ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE / AFP

 

World number ones Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep were named top seeds on Thursday for next week’s Australian Open, with 23-time major winner Serena Williams lurking at 16 on the women’s side.

Djokovic heads long-time rival Rafael Nadal and defending champion Roger Federer, with young-gun Alexander Zverev seeded four as he targets a maiden Grand Slam title.

The Serbian world number one is aiming to make history by claiming a record seventh Australian Open crown when the tournament starts at Melbourne Park on Monday, as is Swiss legend Federer.

The pair face a stern challenge from Zverev, the torch-bearer for the next generation who has so far failed to get beyond the quarter-finals at any major.

With world number five Juan Martin del Potro missing through injury, South Africa’s Kevin Anderson is elevated to fifth seed with last year’s beaten finalist Marin Cilic at six.

Halep takes the top seeding among the women courtesy of her world number one ranking, but she enters the tournament with only one match in four months under her belt after an injury lay off.

The Romanian, the beaten finalist last year, is returning from a herniated disc and was bundled out of the Sydney International on Wednesday at the first hurdle.

Denmark’s defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, who is battling health problems and poor form, is seeded three, one behind Germany’s Angelique Kerber.

US Open champion Naomi Osaka is at four while Sloane Stephens, who also slumped out of Sydney early, is at five.

Overshadowing them all is the mighty Williams, who last played the tournament in 2017 when she won while eight weeks pregnant.

The 37-year-old enters the tournament seeded 16, but has proved in the past that such numbers mean little to her. She is the hot favourite to claim a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam.

Men’s singles

1. Novak Djokovic (SRB), 2. Rafael Nadal (ESP). 3. Roger Federer (SUI), 4, Alexander Zverev (GER). 5. Kevin Anderson (RSA), 6. Marin Cilic (CRO), 7. Dominic Thiem (AUT), 8. Kei Nishikori (JPN), 9. John Isner (USA). 10. Karen Khachanov (RUS), 11. Borna Coric (CRO), 12. Fabio Fognini (ITA), 13. Kyle Edmund (GBR), 14. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE), 15. Daniil Medvedev (RUS), 16. Milos Raonic (CAN), 17. Marco Cecchinato (ITA), 18. Diego Schwartzman (ARG), 19. Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO), 20. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL), 21. David Goffin (BEL), 22. Roberto Agut Bautista (ESP), 23. Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP), 24. Chung Hyeon (KOR), 25. Denis Shapovalov (CAN), 26. Fernando Verdasco (ESP), 27. Alex de Minaur (AUS), 28. Lucas Pouille (FRA), 29. Gilles Simon (FRA), 30. Gael Monfils (FRA), 31. Steve Johnson (USA), 32. Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER)

Women’s singles

1. Simon Halep (ROU), 2. Angelique Kerber (GER), 3. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN), 4. Naomi Osaka (JPN), 5. Sloane Stephens (USA), 6. Elina Svitolina (UKR), 7. Karolina Pliskova (CZE), 8. Petra Kvitova (CZE), 9. Kiki Bertens (NED), 10. Daria Kasatkina (RUS), 11. Aryna  Sabalenka (BLR) 12. Elise Mertens (BEL), 13. Anastasija Sevastova (LAT), 14. Julia Goerges (GER), 15. Ashleigh Barty (AUS), 16. Serena Williams (USA), 17. Madison Keys (USA), 18. Garbine Muguruza (ESP), 19. Caroline Garcia (FRA), 20. Anett Kontaveit (EST), 21. Qiang Wang (CHN), 22. Jelena Ostapenko (LAT), 23. Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP), 24. Lesia Tsurenko (UKR), 25. Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU), 26. Dominika Cibulkova (SVK), 27. Camila Giorgi (ITA), 28.  Hsieh Suwei (TPE), 29. Donna Vekic (CRO), 30. Maria Sharapova (RUS), 31. Petra Martic (CRO), 32. Barbora Strycova (CZE)

AFP

Serena Handed Tough Draw In Quest For Record 24th Slam

Serena Williams of the US plays a forehand shot during a practice session in Melbourne on January 10, 2019, ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament. ASANKA BRENDON RATNAYAKE / AFP

 

Serena Williams has been handed a challenging draw in her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, starting with Germany’s Tatjana Maria in the first round.

The American, seeded 16, is gunning to match Margaret Court’s record of singles majors and claim an eighth Australian Open crown.

But Williams is in a tough half of the draw and could meet world number one Simona Halep in round four, and if she gets through that Karolina Pliskova in the last eight.

Before those potential ties, either Chinese wildcard Peng Shui or Canadian Eugenie Bouchard would await Williams in the second round.

Halep, who enters the tournament having played just one game in four months after a back injury, was handed a chance to avenge Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, who beat her in the first round of the US Open in August.

If she comes through that dangerous opening showdown, she could meet Venus Williams in round three.

Defending champion and third seed Caroline Wozniacki starts against Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium and could meet 2008 champion Maria Sharapova in round three.

“Coming back as defending champion, it’s something I always dreamed of. I feel at home here. These courts are suited for me. I’m enjoying every minute,” said the Dane at Thursday’s draw, while paying tribute to Williams.

“Serena is the greatest player to have played the game. Her experiences have been a learning experience for me. It’s been fun though as well. She has a baby now! It’s amazing being back on tour so soon.”

The 2016 winner Angelique Kerber, seeded two, begins her draw against Slovenia’s Polona Hercog and could meet fifth seed Wozniacki in the semis.

Japan’s Naomi Osaka, the US Open champion, kicks off her tournament against Poland’s Magda Linette and is in line to meet Australia’s Daria Gavrilova round two.

AFP