Woz­ni­acki, Fed­erer on dif­fer­ent ends of spec­trum

De­fend­ing women’s cham­pion seeks 2nd Grand Slam ti­tle; Roger goes for No. 21

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - Sports - By John Pye

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia — A women’s fi­nal last year fea­tur­ing two play­ers aim­ing for their first Grand Slam ti­tle fin­ished with Caro­line Woz­ni­acki hold­ing off top-ranked Si­mona Halep for the cham­pi­onship.

Roger Fed­erer beat Marin Cilic to win the Aus­tralian Open for the sixth time — claim­ing his 20th ma­jor crown — and suc­cess­fully de­fend the ti­tle he won the pre­vi­ous year in a ca­reer come­back of sorts.

At 37, he’s still tar­get­ing records at his record-equal­ing 20th Aus­tralian Open: to be the first man to win seven Aus­tralian Open ti­tles, the first man to win at least seven sin­gles ti­tles at two Grand Slam tour­na­ments (he has eight Wim­ble­don ti­tles), and the first man to win five ma­jor ti­tles after turn­ing 30.

Of course, he’s got strong com­pe­ti­tion from No­vak Djokovic, who has won the last two ma­jors and is also aim­ing for a sev­enth Aus­tralian ti­tle. Then there’s a resur­gent Rafael Nadal, the likes of Cilic and Sasha Zverev. But there’s un­likely to be an­other run to the fi­nal for Andy Mur­ray, who wants to start the tour­na­ment where he has reached the fi­nal five times but is un­sure how much longer he can play be­cause of the pain in his sur­gi­cally re­paired right hip. He’s tar­get­ing re­tire­ment at Wim­ble­don, if he can go that far.

Fed­erer, the sport’s se­nior states­man, was asked Sun­day how he re­tained such a high level of health de­spite be­ing about five years older than Nadal, Djokovic and Mur­ray — the other mem­bers of the so­called Big Four. He said he un­der­stood his body and had a great team around him.

“Maybe also the way I play ten­nis; maybe it’s smoother than the other guys,” said Fed­erer, who is renowned for a style that ap­pears al­most ef­fort­less, and his stun­ning sin­gle­handed back­hand. “It just maybe looks that way. I work ex­tremely hard in the matches as well — it just maybe doesn’t come across so much.

“I don’t know if that’s also some­thing that maybe is part of the equa­tion.”

He said he was shocked at Mur­ray’s an­nounce­ment, at 31, of his pend­ing re­tire­ment. “It hits us top guys hard be­cause we know Andy very well. We like him. He’s a good guy, Hall of Famer, leg­end,” Fed­erer said. “It’s a tough one, but on down the road he can look back on and be in­cred­i­bly proud of ev­ery­thing he has achieved.”

Fed­erer, for his 100th ca­reer ti­tle, will open against No. 99-ranked De­nis Is­tomin at Rod Laver Arena on Mon­day night, likely after Mur­ray has taken on aim­ing No. 22-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut at Mel­bourne Arena — the third of the three show courts at Mel­bourne Park.

Is­tomin had a shock­ing sec­ond-round win over Djokovic here in 2017 on his way to the fourth round, and Fed­erer is wary of the Uzbek vet­eran after also meet­ing him in the first round here in ’06.

“I know what De­nis did to No­vak. I watched ba­si­cally the en­tire game a cou­ple years ago,” Fed­erer said. “I’ve had some tough ones against him in the past. He can play well in fast courts.

“I’m play­ing good ten­nis. I’m con­fi­dent that I think it needs a good per­for­mance by my op­po­nent prob­a­bly to beat me. That’s al­ways a good thought.”

Woz­ni­acki had the first of the night matches on Rod Laver against Ali­son Van Uyt­vanck after a day ses­sion on the main sta­dium that fea­tured Maria Shara­pova, Nadal and No. 2-ranked An­gelique Ker­ber.

“It’s a pos­i­tive to be here as the de­fend­ing cham­pion. I’m just tak­ing it as a nice, fun chal­lenge,” the third­seeded Woz­ni­acki said. “I can’t be­lieve it’s al­ready been a year. It doesn’t feel like it to me.”

Woz­ni­acki re­vealed at the sea­son-end­ing WTA Cham­pi­onships that she’d been di­ag­nosed with rheuma­toid arthri­tis, so she spent much of the off­sea­son rest­ing and re­cu­per­at­ing and get­ting ready for 2019.

After her break­through here last year, she didn’t get be­yond the fourth round at the other ma­jors, but says she feels like she’s hit­ting the ball well.

French Open win­ner Halep and U.S. Open cham­pion Naomi Osaka col­lected their first ma­jor ti­tles last year, and Ker­ber won at Wim­ble­don to cap­ture her third in a se­quence of eight dif­fer­ent women’s win­ners in eight Slams.

Ser­ena Wil­liams was un­able to de­fend her ti­tle here last year be­cause she was tak­ing time out after hav­ing a baby and fin­ished the sea­son with back-to-back run­ner-up fin­ishes at Wim­ble­don and the U.S. open.

Now she’s back, seeded 16th, aim­ing for an eight Aus­tralian ti­tle. The 23-time ma­jor win­ner is in the same sec­tion as her sis­ter Venus Wil­liams and Halep, who all start ac­tion on Day 2.

DAVID GRAY/AFP-GETTY

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