Australian Open 2019: Federer, Djokovic carry 'Big Four' hopes in Melbourne

By Sports Desk January 12, 2019

The 'Big Four' is set to become the 'Big Three' and it appears Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will be hard to stop at the Australian Open.

Federer and Djokovic will be aiming for a seventh title in Melbourne – a total that would give either the most by any man of all time.

Just a year ago, questions were being asked about Djokovic, while Federer entered the year's first grand slam in 2017 on the back of an injury lay-off.

This time, there's uncertainty over Rafael Nadal, while Andy Murray will bid farewell to Melbourne in 2018.

Nadal, 32, has talked up his form, but his recent record on hard courts is concerning and the 17-time grand slam champion pulled out of the Brisbane International due to a thigh strain. He played three hard-court tournaments in 2018 and he completed just one of those – winning the Rogers Cup in August.

Nadal's last competitive match was at the US Open, where he retired in the semi-finals due to a knee injury, before undergoing ankle surgery in November. While he played the Fast4 event in Sydney, Nadal's preparation leaves plenty of doubts over whether he can win a second Australian Open title and first since 2009.

Of the 'Big Four', there were only bigger question marks over Murray, who announced on Friday he would retire no later than this year's Wimbledon.

The Brit played just 12 singles matches last year – winning seven – after having surgery on his hip, before ending his season in September. Now the world number 230, Murray enters the Australian Open with a protected ranking but unseeded. He beat wildcard James Duckworth at the Brisbane International before losing to Daniil Medvedev, but his hip is causing him too much pain to continue his career beyond 2018.

A five-time Australian Open finalist, the 31-year-old deserves to be remembered for his runs in Melbourne regardless of what happens this time around.

The 'Big Four' have won 53 of the past 60 majors, and 13 of the previous 15 titles in Melbourne. But the responsibility of them improving that record appears set to fall largely to Djokovic and Federer, who have won eight of the previous nine Australian Opens.

While unable to add to his 20th major after winning in Melbourne last year, Federer enjoyed another fine season, albeit with some stumbles. The Swiss great lost to Kei Nishikori and eventual champion Alexander Zverev at the ATP Finals, while he suffered two defeats to Borna Coric and was also beaten by Australians Thanasi Kokkinakis and John Millman in 2018.

But for the third year in a row, Federer prepared at the Hopman Cup, again showing good signs, particularly in wins over Zverev and the up-and-coming Stefanos Tsitsipas. Federer carries a 14-match Australian Open winning streak into the tournament, with his last defeat against Djokovic in the 2016 semi-finals.

Djokovic may be the man to beat after recapturing his best form in the second half of last year.

The Serbian 14-time grand slam champion won Wimbledon and the US Open, a trip to the French Alps revitalising the superstar. He has been unable to win his past three events, including in Doha, where he lost to Roberto Bautista Agut in the semi-finals.

Since winning back-to-back titles in Melbourne in 2015 and 2016, Djokovic has been surprised by Denis Istomin and Hyeon Chung in the past two years.

If the 'Big Four' are to begin 2019 in dominant fashion once more, it seems it will be up to Djokovic or Federer to ensure they do so.

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    Kerber, victorious at Melbourne Park three years ago, was hammered by unseeded American Danielle Collins while 2008 champion Sharapova took the first set against home hope Ashleigh Barty before succumbing 4-6 6-1 6-4.

    Former US Open winner Sloane Stephens saw her challenge come to a halt in the fourth round too as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova prevailed in another match to go the distance, and Petra Kvitova demolished 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova.

    Roger Federer's exit to Stefanos Tsitsipas attracted much of the attention at Melbourne Park on day seven, but there was no shortage of drama and incident in the women's draw...



    Since a run to the semi-finals in 2013, Stephens has failed to reach the second week in Melbourne but she looked on course to earn a quarter-final berth when she took the opening set against Pavlyuchenkova.

    And Stephens carried that momentum into the second, breaking immediately and going 2-0 ahead before her opponent roared back and reeled off six of the next seven games to force a decider.

    The final set, which began with a Stephens hold after 17 minutes, proved a topsy-turvy affair, featuring six breaks of serve, but Pavlyuchenkova had her nose in front early and the Russian advanced 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 6-3 to set up a last-eight meeting with Collins.



    Collins had never won a grand slam match before this week, but the 25-year-old was utterly dominant in a 6-0 6-2 annihilation of Kerber, who conceded that she was well below her best.

    "I think there is not too much to say. I mean, it was completely not my day," Kerber said. "I was not playing the tennis that I can play. She played really well. I think she played one of her best matches, to be honest. She hit every ball in the court. She moves good.

    "For me...not my day, not my good tennis, but credit to her, she played a good match. I was just trying, I couldn't find my rhythm. The whole match I was trying everything. I was trying to find it. I was trying to fight even in the second set and tried my best."



    Still seven months shy of her 18th birthday, Anisimova produced a sensational run to the fourth round but the teenager came up against too strong an opponent in two-time major champion Kvitova, who eased through 6-2 6-1.

    Anisimova took to social media after the match, admitting she was beaten by the better woman, saying: "I got a tennis lesson today, but at least it was from one of the best in the world hey...really though I had such an enjoyable week here, thank you so much for being such an amazing crowd. I am so looking forward to next year Melbs".

    And Belinda Bencic, defeated 6-1 6-4 by Kvitova in the previous round, felt a degree of sympathy with the young American, replying on Instagram: "Welcome to the club #petrasvictims".



    Next up for Kvitova is home favourite Barty, who delighted the partisan crowd by coming from behind to oust Sharapova and the Australian is hoping for revenge after losing out to the world number six in the final of the Sydney International earlier this month.

    "[I need to] win a couple more important points, I suppose, compared to Sydney," Barty said. "It's exciting that I get to have another chance at Petra straight away.

    "Not often does that happen where you get to kind of have a replay against the same opponent. Really exciting, but, yeah, really pumped to have another chance here."

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