Fed­erer, Djokovic could be Aussie Open fi­nal

The Island Packet - - Front Page - BY JOHN PYE As­so­ci­ated Press

Roger Fed­erer and No­vak Djokovic are aim­ing for the same record from op­po­site sides of the draw, leav­ing open the prospect of them play­ing in the fi­nal for a sev­enth Aus­tralian Open ti­tle.

Top-ranked Djokovic and de­fend­ing cham­pion Fed­erer will en­ter the sea­son-open­ing ma­jor equal with Roy Emer­son, who won his six Aus­tralian sin­gles cham­pi­onships be­tween 1961 and ’67, be­fore the Open era.

Ser­ena Wil­liams al­ready has seven Aus­tralian Open sin­gles ti­tles, and she will be a strong con­tender to add an­other after skip­ping last year’s tour­na­ment while on leave after hav­ing a baby.

Now seeded 16th, Wil­liams was drawn into the same sec­tion Thurs­day as No. 1-ranked Si­mona Halep, the run­ner-up last year. The pair could meet in the fourth round.

Djokovic starts at the top of the draw and will open against a qual­i­fier. Things could get much tougher quickly, with a po­ten­tial sec­ond-round meet­ing against wild-card en­try Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga, who he beat in the 2008 Aus­tralian fi­nal, and with De­nis Shapo­valov in the same sec­tion. Eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori, who opened the sea­son with a ti­tle in Bris­bane, Aus­tralia, is a po­ten­tial quar­ter­fi­nal ri­val and No. 4 Alexan­der Zverev would loom as a semi­fi­nal op­po­nent if both play­ers ad­vance that far.

Fed­erer, who has won the past two ti­tles at Mel­bourne Park in a ca­reer resur­gence, is in the bot­tom half of the draw with sec­ond-ranked Rafael Nadal, who is re­turn­ing from an in­jury lay­off.

Aim­ing for a 21st Grand Slam tro­phy and a 100th sin­gles ti­tle, Fed­erer will open against De­nis Is­tomin. And with No. 6 Marin Cilic in the same quar­ter, there’s po­ten­tial for a re­match of the 2018 fi­nal a few rounds early.

“I’m so close, I’ll give it a go,” Fed­erer said. “If I made 100 at the Aus­tralian I’d take it, I’d gladly ac­cept it – and I’ll give it all I have.”

Cilic was drawn into the same sec­tion as five-time fi­nal­ist Andy Mur­ray, who is com­ing back from a hip in­jury that has ham­pered him for al­most two years and is set to open against No. 22-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut.

A tear­ful Mur­ray, 31, said the Aus­tralian Open could be his last tour­na­ment be­cause of the pain.

“I’m go­ing to play (in Aus­tralia) – I can still play to the level,” said Mur­ray, who is con­sid­er­ing an­other op­er­a­tion on his right hip. “Not a level I’m happy play­ing at – but also, it’s not just that. The pain is too much re­ally.”

Mur­ray won only two games at Mel­bourne Park dur­ing an in­com­plete prac­tice match with Djokovic, show­ing signs he still isn’t fully fit after spend­ing most of the past 18 months off the tour. Mur­ray played at the sea­son-open­ing Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional last week, when he beat James Duck­worth but lost in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev in the sec­ond round, limp­ing be­tween points and ad­mit­ting he’s still deal­ing with his trou­ble­some hip.

One of the most in­trigu­ing men’s first-round matches will fea­ture 2016 Wim­ble­don fi­nal­ist Mi­los Raonic against mer­cu­rial

Aus­tralian Nick Kyr­gios, who is unseeded after his rank­ing slid from 13 into the 50s but has tour-level vic­to­ries over Fed­erer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Wil­liams will face Tat­jana Maria in the first round and could meet ei­ther Ge­nie Bouchard or Peng Shaui in the sec­ond. Halep has drawn an­other opener against Kaia Kanepi, who beat her at the same stage at last year’s U.S. Open, and a pos­si­ble thir­drounder against unseeded Venus Wil­liams.

Caro­line Woz­ni­acki, who won her first Grand Slam ti­tle in Mel­bourne last year after a tough fi­nal against Halep, is in the same sec­tion as Maria Shara­pova and has Pe­tra Kvi­tova at the top of her quar­ter.

“The first time I came back here and hit on the courts, I thought, ‘OK, I’m home,’ ” third-seeded Woz­ni­acki said of her re­turn to Mel­bourne Park. “I feel like these courts are suited for me.”

Sec­ond-seeded An­gelique Ker­ber, who won the Aus­tralian and U.S. Opens in 2016 and added the Wim­ble­don ti­tle last year, is in the same half as Woz­ni­acki and has 2017 U.S. Open cham­pion Sloane Stephens in her quar­ter.

MARK BAKER AP

Top-ranked No­vak Djokovic makes a back­hand re­turn to Andy Mur­ray dur­ing a prac­tice match Thurs­day on Mar­garet Court Arena ahead of the Aus­tralian Open in Mel­bourne. Djokovic and de­fend­ing cham­pion Roger Fed­erer are each look­ing to win a sev­enth Aus­tralian Open ti­tle.

Roger Fed­erer

RICK RYCROFT AP

Si­mona Halep, above, is No. 1 in the world and was the run­ner-up at last year’s Aus­tralian Open, but she could face 16th-seeded Ser­ena Wil­liams in the fourth round.

Ser­ena Wil­liams

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