Mur­ray may be out be­fore No­vak starts

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By JOHN PYE AP Sports Writer

MEL­BOURNE, AUS­TRALIA >> No­vak Djokovic knows there’s a chance he may not have played his open­ing match at the Aus­tralian Open be­fore Andy Mur­ray is out of the tour­na­ment. Per­haps even fin­ished on the tour.

Their ca­reers have long been in­ter­twined. They’re both 31 and have birth­days a week apart in May, and they’ve played each other 36 times at the elite level.

Djokovic leads those 25-11, in­clud­ing a 4-0 record in fi­nals at the Aus­tralian Open, where Mur­ray has been a five-time fi­nal­ist but never won the ti­tle.

They had a prac­tice match to­gether in Mel­bourne Park on the eve of Mur­ray’s teary news con­fer­ence Fri­day, where he re­vealed the pain from his sur­gi­cally-re­paired right hip was so bad that he’d de­cided to re­tire after at­tempt­ing one more run at Wim­ble­don — if he can make it that far.

Mur­ray was no­tice­ably limp­ing be­tween points and only won two games in al­most two full sets, but Djokovic on Sun­day de­nied he’d taken it any eas­ier on his long­time friend. It’s not the way they op­er­ate.

“I wasn’t, no. To be hon­est, I wasn’t,” top-ranked Djokovic said. “But I did see, it was very ob­vi­ous for ev­ery­one, you didn’t need to be

on court to no­tice that he’s strug­gling.

“We’ve seen so many years of Andy Mur­ray be­ing one of the fittest guys on the tour, run­ning around the court, get­ting al­ways an ex­tra ball back. I think to that ex­tent, we are kind of sim­i­lar.”

Djokovic has six Aus­tralian Open ti­tles, a record he shared with twotime de­fend­ing cham­pion Roger Fed­erer and Roy Emer­son. Djokovic and Fed­erer are on op­po­site sides of the draw, and can only meet in the fi­nal. Mur­ray is in Fed­erer’s half, but even he con­cedes he’s un­likely to get past No. 22-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut on Mon­day night.

Djokovic isn’t in ac­tion un­til Day 2, when he opens against U.S. qual­i­fier Mitchell Krueger. As win­ner of the last two ma­jors, he’s a strong con­tender to win in Mel­bourne Park again and be­come the first man with three streaks of three or more con­sec­u­tive Grand Slam cham­pi­onships.

His 14 ma­jors so far place him third be­hind 37-year-old Fed­erer (20) and 32-year-old Rafael Nadal (17), but he’s likely got more years to play on the cir­cuit.

Mur­ray’s ca­reer is ex­pected to be fin­ished in a mat­ter of months. He didn’t tally as many ti­tles as the other mem­bers of the Big Four, but he broke decades-long droughts for British men in ma­jors and at Wim­ble­don, and be­came the first player to win con­sec­u­tive sin­gles gold medals at the Olympics.

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