Australian Open: Stakes high, Murray ponders retirement


Britain’s Andy Murray says he plans to retire after this year’s Wimbledon but fears next week’s Australian Open could be the final tournament of his career.

The three-time Grand Slam winner, who is struggling to recover from hip surgery, was in tears as he spoke to journalists in Melbourne on Friday.

“I’m not sure I’m able to play through the pain for another four or five months,” said the Scot.

“I want to get to Wimbledon and stop but I’m not certain I can do that.”

However, 31-year-old Murray says he still intends to play his Australian Open first-round match against Spanish 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut next week.

The former world number one had surgery on his right hip last January and has played 14 matches since returning to the sport last June.

Murray ended his 2018 season in September to spend time working with rehabilitation expert Bill Knowles, but still looked short of the required level when he played world number one Novak Djokovic in an open practice match at Melbourne Park on Thursday.

In his news conference, Murray conceded: “I’m not feeling good, I’ve been struggling for a long time.

“I’ve been in a lot of pain for about 20 months now. I’ve pretty much done everything I could to try and get my hip feeling better and it hasn’t helped loads.

“I’m in a better place than I was six months ago but I’m still in a lot of pain. I can still play to a level, but not a level I have played at.”

The pairings

Johanna Konta – Britain’s leading woman and 2016 semi-finalist – plays home hope Ajla Tomljanovic.

British number two Cameron Norrie takes on American Taylor Fritz, compatriot Katie Boulter faces Ekaterina Makarova and Heather Watson is up against Petra Martic.

Dan Evans and Harriet Dart could increase the number of Britons in the main draw to eight if they win their final qualifying matches.

Defending men’s champion Roger Federer plays Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin in his opening match, while Rafael Nadal – in the Swiss’ half of the draw – meets Australian wild card James Duckworth.

World number one Novak Djokovic will face a qualifier in the first round, potentially playing France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round.

Both Federer and Djokovic are aiming to become the first man to win a seventh singles title in Melbourne, with the pair tied with Australian great Roy Emerson on six victories.

Federer’s opponent Istomin caused a big upset two years ago when he beat Djokovic in the second round here.

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, one of the most dangerous unseeded players in the men’s draw, will face Canada’s 16th seed Milos Raonic.

Caroline Wozniacki, who won her maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne last year, starts her defence against Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck.

Top seed Simona Halep has been given the chance to gain revenge on Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, who beat the Romanian in the first round of the US Open in August.

Halep’s quarter of the draw also contains Serena Williams, who is aiming for a 24th Grand Slam title to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record, seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams, former Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza and Konta.

Serena Williams faces Germany’s Tatjana Maria in the first round as she competes for the first time since losing the US Open final in controversial circumstances.

The draws were conducted by Australian great Rod Laver and tournament director Craig Tiley at Melbourne Park before being publicly revealed shortly afterwards on Thursday.

The singles champions will each receive 4m Australian dollars (£2.25m).

Murray, 31, is returning to Melbourne after missing last year’s tournament following hip surgery.

The former world number one has only played 12 matches since returning to the sport, with next week’s meeting with Bautista Agut set to be his first competitive match since September.

The Scot’s form and fitness looked unconvincing in a practice match against Djokovic at Melbourne Park on Thursday, where he won only two games.

Bautista Agut, who beat Djokovic on his way to winning the Qatar Open final against Berdych last week, promises to provide another stern test.

Edmund started a breakthrough 2018 by reaching the Australian Open semi-finals last year, but has been handed one of the worst possible draws as he looks to defend a mountain of ranking points.

The Yorkshireman has climbed to 14th in the world after a successful season where he also won his first ATP title.

His preparations have been hampered by a knee injury which forced him to pull out of the Sydney International, although he did hit with Federer in Melbourne on his 24th birthday on Tuesday.

Norrie, who beat Fritz to reach the Auckland semi-finals earlier on Thursday, could face Federer in the third round.

Konta has dropped to 37th in the rankings after struggling for form since reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2017, leading to another coaching change – replacing American Michael Joyce with Stan Wawrinka’s former coach Dimitri Zavialoff – at the end of last year.

The 27-year-old made a promising start to the 2019 season by beating former US Open champion Sloane Stephens in Brisbane, but lost to Tomljanovic in the next round before pulling out of the Sydney International with a neck injury.

Boulter, who broke into the top 100 for the first time in October, is competing in her first Grand Slam main draw outside of Wimbledon.

But the 22-year-old has been handed a testing draw against wily Russian Makarova, who is a former world number eight and reached the Australia Open semi-finals four years ago.

Watson, ranked 93rd in the world, has lost both her matches this year and plays Croatian 31st seed Petra Martic.

British players will have to overcome a very tough draw, and some indifferent form, to continue a long run of success here in Melbourne.

A British player has reached at least the quarter-finals of the singles in each of the past nine years.

Murray faces a man in form and on the cusp of the world’s top 20, while it is as tough as it gets for Edmund – given he could not have been drawn to face another seeded player.

Berdych has been in two Australian Open semi-finals. Edmund will have to put a lack of matches, concern about a knee problem and the expectations aroused by last year’s semi-final run to the back of his mind.

And if Konta makes progress, it will be very well deserved. She is in the same quarter of the draw as Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Karolina Pliskova and both Williams sisters: one current, and four former, world number one players.

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