TEN­NIS

Yuma Sun - - SUN SPORTS -

lian Open ti­tles, a record he shared with two-time 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.

“Our tra­jec­tory to the pro­fes­sional ten­nis world was pretty much sim­i­lar,” Djokovic said. “We’ve grown to­gether play­ing ju­nior events. We played lots of epic matches in the pro­fes­sional cir­cuit (and) our games are quite alike.

“Ob­vi­ously to see him

strug­gle so much and go through so much pain, it’s very sad and it hurts me as his long­time friend, col­league, ri­val.”

Djokovic said he was proud of the kind of re­la­tion­ship he and Mur­ray had fos­tered, and he was sorry to see his friend set to leave the tour.

“It’s sad for me, but for all sport, be­cause Andy is a very re­spected and lik­able guy around the locker room,” Djokovic said. “He’s a great cham­pion. He’s a leg­end of this sport, with­out a doubt — mul­ti­ple Grand Slam win­ner, two golds from Olympic Games, Davis Cup. He’s had it all.

“He touched us all def­i­nitely. I wish him a pain­less fu­ture in what­ever shape or form that is, on or off the court.”

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