DJOKOVIC, SER­ENA LEAD OLD GUARD INTO NEW DECADE

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

Mel­bourne, Australia - Old stagers No­vak Djokovic and Ser­ena Wil­liams will aim to keep the younger gen­er­a­tion of play­ers wait­ing in the wings as Grand Slam ten­nis en­ters a new decade at the Aus­tralian Open on Mon­day.

Af­ter re­cent bush­fire smog largely cleared in Mel­bourne, the view is all too fa­mil­iar with Djokovic and Ser­ena, who is seek­ing a record-equalling 24th Ma­jor ti­tle, in­stalled as the book­ies' favourites.

Top seed Rafael Nadal, 33, is cel­e­brat­ing be­com­ing world No 1 in a third decade while Roger Fed­erer, 38, is try­ing to defy the age­ing process and stay ahead of his ri­vals with a 21st Grand Slam win. The start of 2020 is not dis­sim­i­lar to 2010, when Fed­erer and Nadal shared the four Grand Slam ti­tles and Ser­ena won in Mel­bourne and Wim­ble­don.

Ten years later, the men's Big Three - who have won all but two Aus­tralian Open ti­tles since 2004 - oc­cupy the top three rank­ings, and Ser­ena is one step away from Mar­garet Court's record for Grand Slam vic­to­ries.

The men's dom­i­nance is stark: since Fed­erer won his first Grand Slam ti­tle in 2003, only five Ma­jor fi­nals have not fea­tured one of the Swiss, Nadal or Djokovic. Sev­eral chal­lengers have come and gone but there is in­creas­ing hope for the men's up-and­com­ers, while nine women have won Grand Slam ti­tles since Ser­ena, 38, claimed her 23rd in Mel­bourne in 2017.

‘They’re very close’

While Djokovic and Nadal split last year's Grand Slams, Do­minic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Fabio Fognini won their first Masters tro­phies and Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas, 21, be­came the youngest ATP Fi­nals cham­pion in 18 years.

"They're very close. I don't think that's miles, miles away maybe as it was some years ago," Djokovic of the Nex­tGen win­ning a Ma­jor ti­tle.

"I think they are def­i­nitely hun­gry. They're chal­leng­ing. They're knock­ing on the door."

The clash be­tween old and new will be epit­o­mised in the first round on Mon­day, when Venus Wil­liams, who turns 40 this year, plays 15 year old ris­ing star Coco Gauff - who wasn't even born when her fel­low Amer­i­can lifted her first Grand Slam tro­phies in 2000.

Ja­pan's Naomi Osaka, 22, is de­fend­ing a ti­tle for the sec­ond Grand Slam in a row af­ter her re­peat bid at last year's US Open fell flat in the fourth round.

World No 1 Ash­leigh Barty, fresh from win­ning the Ade­laide In­ter­na­tional on Satur­day, car­ries Aus­tralian hopes of see­ing the first home-grown women's win­ner since 1978.

"Ob­vi­ously it's the per­fect prepa­ra­tion. But re­gard­less of whether I won the ti­tle or not last week, I feel like I'm well-pre­pared," Barty

said.

Mel­bourne Park is a home away from home for the Ser­bian world No 2 who has won seven of the last 12 Aus­tralian Opens since mak­ing his Grand Slam break­through on its hard­courts way back in 2008. Djokovic, 32, who has amassed 16 Ma­jor tour­na­ment wins, thrashed his old spar­ring part­ner Rafael Nadal in last year's fi­nal to kick off an­other phe­nom­e­nal year where he won his fifth Wim­ble­don ti­tle and col­lected five tour­na­ment vic­to­ries to take his ca­reer tally to 77.

Ten­nis roy­alty Fed­erer is rapidly be­com­ing the old­est swinger in town but even at 38, he still has the tools to add to his all-time record of 20 Grand Slam ti­tles. Re­tire­ment talk is never far away at his age but there are few signs he plans to call a halt this year, when Fed­erer will look to fill the only gap in his tro­phy cabi­net - Olympic sin­gles gold. Like Djokovic, he has a lik­ing for Mel­bourne Park, where he has won six ti­tles, most re­cently in 2018.

Will this be the mo­ment when the Amer­i­can great fi­nally makes it a 24th Grand Slam ti­tle? The 38 year old Ser­ena, now a mother, has been stuck on 23 Ma­jor tri­umphs since

win­ning the Aus­tralian Open in 2017 when she beat her sis­ter Venus. Now in her fourth decade on the WTA Tour, Ser­ena started the sea­son well when she won in Auck­land - her 73rd tour vic­tory and first since the 2017 Aus­tralian Open.

She hit the highs and the lows in 2019. Osaka, 22, tri­umphed at last year's Aus­tralian Open for her sec­ond Grand Slam ti­tle but the Ja­panese then en­dured a slump, ex­it­ing early at the Wim­ble­don and the US Open. Last month she hired Bel­gian Wim Fis­sette as her coach - her fourth in less than a year.

Australia's world No 1 will en­joy strong back­ing from the home crowd, but whether she thrives or shrinks in the spot­light will be key to her chances. She won her maiden Grand Slam at the French Open in 2019. Barty, 23, be­came No 1 in June and has stayed there ever since.

NO­VAK DJOKOVIC ROGER FED­ERER

SER­ENA WIL­LIAMS

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