Mur­ray pre­pares for his first-round op­po­nent in what is likely his fi­nal Aus­tralian Open

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - REPORT ON BUSINESS SPORTS - MEL­BOURNE, AUS­TRALIA

Three-time Grand Slam cham­pion be­gins run in Mel­bourne against a player he’s faced three times be­fore, but un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances

An emo­tional Andy Mur­ray kicks off his Aus­tralian Open cam­paign against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the night ses­sion at Mel­bourne Park on Mon­day in what could well be the fi­nal match of the Scot’s glit­ter­ing ca­reer.

Hip surgery a year ago has left the three-time Grand Slam cham­pion in se­vere pain and the 31year-old said last week that the year’s first Grand Slam could be his last tour­na­ment.

Mur­ray has never lost in three meet­ings with Bautista Agut and last beat the 22nd seed in the Shang­hai Mas­ters fi­nal in 2016 when the Scot was at his peak, hav­ing just won his sec­ond Wim­ble­don ti­tle and Olympic gold in Rio.

Both play­ers’ for­tunes have changed since they last faced each other over the net.

Bautista Agut is com­ing off an im­pres­sive run in Doha, where he beat Stan Wawrinka, No­vak Djokovic and To­mas Berdych en route to win­ning the ti­tle.

Mur­ray, in con­trast, is ranked 230th in the world and was beaten in straight sets by Rus­sia’s Daniil Medvedev at the Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional warm-up.

The Scot said his trou­ble­some hip had stacked the odds against him.

“I know most likely I’m go­ing to lose in the first round,” added Mur­ray, who has fin­ished run­nerup in Mel­bourne five times but never won the ti­tle. “If it is my last match, I want to try and en­joy it.”

An hour after Mur­ray walks on to the Mel­bourne Arena, de­fend­ing women’s cham­pion Caro­line Woz­ni­acki will take on un­seeded Bel­gian Ali­son Van Uyt­vanck un­der the lights on Rod Laver Arena, the tour­na­ment’s main show court.

Woz­ni­acki will be fol­lowed by men’s cham­pion Roger Fed­erer, whose quest for a third Aus­tralian Open ti­tle in a row be­gins with an eighth ca­reer meet­ing with Uzbek­istan’s De­nis Is­tomin.

Fed­erer, who has never lost to Is­tomin be­fore, will be grate­ful the match is in the evening, al­low­ing the Swiss vet­eran to avoid the worst of the heat on what prom­ises to be a scorch­ing day.

Tem­per­a­tures are ex­pected to soar to about 36 to 37 C in Mel­bourne on Mon­day, with high hu­mid­ity set to make it the hottest day of the week.

Or­ga­niz­ers have up­dated the tour­na­ment’s ex­treme-heat pol­icy, and Ten­nis Aus­tralia’s new “Heat Stress Scale” is likely to be pressed into ac­tion from the start.

Sec­ond seed Rafael Nadal will bat­tle the worst of the con­di­tions when he takes on Aus­tralian wild card and world No. 238 James Duck­worth in the sec­ond match on Rod Laver.

Nadal, who pulled out of the Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional with a thigh strain, has shrugged off con­cerns his bat­tle-scarred body may not be able to han­dle the strain of two weeks of top-level ten­nis, but doubts re­main.

The Spaniard re­cently had an­kle surgery and has twice lost to wild cards at a ma­jor be­fore, first at the hands of James Blake in the 2005 U.S. Open and then to Nick Kyr­gios at Wim­ble­don in 2014.

Aus­tralian teen Alex de Min­aur, who won his first ca­reer ti­tle at the Syd­ney In­ter­na­tional on Satur­day, is in ac­tion against Por­tu­gal’s Pe­dro Sousa on Mar­garet Court Arena.

World No. 15 Ash­leigh Barty, who is car­ry­ing home hopes in the women’s draw and was a los­ing fi­nal­ist in Syd­ney, faces Thai­land’s Luk­sika Kumkhum on Mar­garet Court in the first match of the evening ses­sion.

SHARA­POVA DOLES OUT DOU­BLE BAGEL TO DART

For­mer cham­pion Maria Shara­pova gave hap­less Har­riet Dart a 6-0, 6-0 shel­lack­ing to fly into the sec­ond round of the Aus­tralian Open on Mon­day.

In the open­ing match on Rod Laver Arena’s cen­tre court, the 30th seed was all over the British qual­i­fier from the first point, wrap­ping up the first set in 31 min­utes in a bar­rage of power hit­ting.

Dart saved two match points to stall Shara­pova’s win but sprayed a clumsy vol­ley wide to fall on the third.

Shara­pova will play Swede Re­becca Peter­son for a place in the third round.

WIL­LIAM WEST/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Maria Shara­pova hits a re­turn against Har­riet Dart dur­ing their match on Day 1 of the Aus­tralian Open in Mel­bourne on Mon­day. Tem­per­a­tures were ex­pected to hit the mid-to-high 30s, with high hu­mid­ity set to make Day 1 of the tour­na­ment the hottest one of the week.

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