Era of the ‘Big Four’ end­ing

Daily Dispatch - - Sport / Racing | Horse Racing -

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 win to ce­ment his place as torch-bearer for the next gen­er­a­tion.

But Mur­ray dropped a preGrand Slam bomb­shell, break­ing down dur­ing a tear-filled me­dia 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.

Djokovic said on Sun­day he was de­lighted to be back in Mel­bourne where his rise to great­ness all be­gan in 2008 with his first Grand Slam win.

“It was my first ma­jor tro­phy, that ob­vi­ously served as a great spring­board for my ca­reer,” Djokovic said as he pre­pared to open his as­sault on a sev­enth crown against Amer­i­can Mitchell Krueger on Tues­day.

“It opened a lot of doors for me.

“It al­lowed me to be­lieve in my­self that I can ac­tu­ally win the big­gest tour­na­ments in the world, chal­lenge the best play­ers in the world.”

Fed­erer, now 37, re­mains the chief threat to the Serb and he sounded a warn­ing. “I’m play­ing good ten­nis. “I’m con­fi­dent that I think it needs a good per­for­mance by my op­po­nent prob­a­bly to beat me,” the Swiss master, who warmed for Mel­bourne with vic­tory in Perth’s Hop­man Cup, said.

Sec­ond-ranked Nadal, 32, pulled out of Bris­bane with a thigh strain al­though he re­turned for an ex­hi­bi­tion in Syd­ney and in­sisted at the week­end his fit­ness woes were be­hind him.

“If I am not feel­ing good, I will not be here,” he said be­fore re­veal­ing he had re­mod­elled his serve.

“There are al­ways things to im­prove,” the Spaniard, who faces Aus­tralian wild­card James Duck­worth on Mon­day, said.

Djokovic picked young guns Zverev of Ger­many, Borna Coric of Croa­tia, Karen Khachanov of Rus­sia and Greece’s Ste­fano Tsit­si­pas as key threats to the top three. –


EMO­TIONAL MO­MENT: Andy Mur­ray breaks down dur­ing a me­dia con­fer­ence in Mel­bourne on Fri­day, after an­nounc­ing his plans to re­tire later this year.

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