Former Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka exited in the second round after a marathon loss to Marton Fucsovics.

Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, bowed out after a 7-5 6-1 4-6 2-6 7-6 (11-9) loss to Fucsovics on a warm Wednesday in Melbourne.

Fucsovics saved three match points on John Cain Arena in an encounter that lasted three hours, 59 minutes.

Wawrinka led 6-1 and 8-4 in the super tie-break, but Fucsovics won the final five points and seven of the last eight.

The Hungarian continues to enjoy the year's first grand slam, where he has reached the fourth round twice in the past three years.

Wawrinka, though, has struggled in Australia in recent years.

The Swiss star has now been eliminated in the second round in three of the past four years, while reaching the quarter-finals in 2020.

Wawrinka rallied from two sets to love down and 5-3 behind in the fifth, but wasted his chances in the super tie-break.

Rafael Nadal sailed into the second round of the Australian Open on day two before backing "humble" fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz to have a "great career" following his maiden grand slam win.

Nadal cruised to a 6-3 6-4 6-1 victory over Laslo Djere on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday and will face Michael Mmoh in round two.

The Spanish great's compatriot Alcaraz won his first major match at Melbourne Park, seeing off fellow qualifier Botic Van de Zandschulp 6-1 6-4 6-4.

Murcia native Alcaraz has been billed by Nadal's uncle and former coach, Toni Nadal, as his nephew's "natural replacement" and the 20-time grand slam champion says the 17-year-old has all the ingredients to have a great career.

The second seed said: "He's very good. He's very young. He has everything to improve in the future with his age.

"He already is where he is, and he has a lot of great things on his game. I really believe that he will have a great future because he's a good guy, humble, hard worker. He has a lot of positive things."

Daniil Medvedev outclassed Vasek Pospisil 6-2 6-2 6-4, while Stefanos Tsitsipas eased past Gilles Simon 6-1 6-2 6-1, but fellow seed David Goffin lost a five-set marathon with Alexei Popyrin.

 

Nadal happy to 'survive' 

Nadal missed the ATP Cup before starting his quest for a record 21st grand slam title at Melbourne Park due to muscle tightness in his back.

He was simply happy to clear the first hurdle on the second day of the tournament.

"I needed to survive today and that's what I did. I just tried to be focused all the time, tried to get through," he said.

"For me personally, [I'm] happy to be through to the second round. I did I think a good job today. Straight sets, that's what I did."

 

Tennys disgruntled over 'joke' of preparation

American Tennys Sandgren was among over 70 players who were locked down in a hotel for a fortnight before the tournament due to positive COVID-19 test on their flight to Australia.

Sandgren made no secret of his displeasure over the restrictions he was forced to adhere to and let his feelings be known again after the two-time quarter-finalist lost 7-5 6-1 6-1 to Alex de Minaur on John Cain Arena.

He said: "How would you imagine prepping for a hot kind of muggy day, three-out-of-five sets against a player like that, that calibre, when you can't play tennis? You can't go outside? You can't. It's impossible. It's impossible.

"So I played last week's event [the Great Ocean Road Open], which probably wasn't a good idea. It wasn't hot, it was very mild conditions, and I played two hard three-set matches and I've never been more sore in my life after the second round, and I took two days off because I couldn't walk, and then I hit a couple times before today. I mean, it's just kind of a joke of preparation. But yeah. What are you going to do?"

 

Alcaraz escaping social media hype

Big things are expected of teenager Alcaraz and there was more hype over his potential after an impressive first-round win.

Alcaraz just wants to do his own thing and show why the likes of Rafael and Toni Nadal speak so highly of him.

"So I try to be focus on me, not on the social media, to play my game, play in front of my team, to my team, to me, my family," he said.

"I try to, yeah, to be a part of the social media and don't hear the comparison with Rafa. Yeah, I try to do this."

Rafael Nadal insisted his back was "not perfect" but he is hoping the injury improves after easing through the Australian Open first round.

Playing his first competitive match since last year's ATP Finals, Nadal cruised past Laslo Djere 6-3 6-4 6-1 on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday.

As he eyes a record 21st grand slam title, the Spanish star entered the year's first major under an injury cloud.

Despite his comprehensive first-round victory, Nadal, 34, said his back was still troubling him.

"My back is not perfect, as I said a couple of days ago. Every day that I'm able to go through, probably there are more chances to get better. That's the thing now," he told a news conference.

"There is always a chance to improve, and that's why I'm here playing and fighting to try to get better and then give myself a chance. Today it's not great.

"I needed to change a little bit the motion of my serve. That's what I tried to survive that condition today. Tomorrow a day off.  After tomorrow, another match. I need to go day to day and just try to stay positive.

"Of course every day that I am trying to stay here longer is a day with a chance to get better finally, so that's what I am trying. Trying to do all the things possible to be ready for compete, for what I came here."

Nadal won 40 of 48 points on first serve against Djere, while he mixed 19 winners with 24 unforced errors.

The world number two is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era to win every grand slam at least twice as he aims to add to his 2009 Australian Open title.

"I was able to win in straight sets. It's always a positive start for me," Nadal said.

"Always difficult after not playing for a while, playing an official match in a while. A good start. Happy.

Nadal will face either Viktor Troicki or Michael Mmoh in the second round.

Rafael Nadal opened his bid for a record 21st grand slam title with a straight-sets win over Laslo Djere at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

World number two Nadal, level with the absent Roger Federer for the most men's slams in history, defeated Djere 6-3 6-4 6-1 in the opening round in Melbourne.

Nadal needed less than two hours to earn a meeting with either Viktor Troicki or Michael Mmoh as he appeared to dismiss concerns regarding his fitness at Melbourne Park.

All eyes were on Nadal due to a back problem, which left the star unable to compete for Spain in last week's ATP Cup.

But Nadal looked comfortable as Rod Laver Arena was bathed in sunshine, racing out to a commanding 5-1 lead behind a double-break advantage.

Djere – whose racquet went flying out of his hand and into the court as he served in the fourth game – looked overawed, however once he settled, the Serb reeled off seven successive points to unsettle Nadal.

Nadal, though, survived the fightback to close out the first set from a 0-30 deficit, despite his unforced-error count blowing out to 13 – one more than Djere.

Djere showed glimpses as he continued to make things difficult for Nadal, who had only lost twice previously in the first round of a slam – Steve Darcis (2013 Wimbledon) and Fernando Verdasco (2016 Australian Open).

But Nadal had all the answers, reducing his unforced-error count to nine and raising his winners to eight to claim a commanding two-sets-to-love lead.

Nadal boasted an intimidating record when winning the opening two sets of a slam match – 216-1, with his only loss coming to Fabio Fognini at the 2015 US Open – and he never looked back against Djere.

 

Data Slam: Nadal keeps strong record
Nadal kept a record intact, having never lost an Australian Open match to a player ranked as low as number 56 Djere.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Nadal – 19/24
Djere – 20/36

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Nadal – 5/1
Djere – 4/5

BREAK POINTS WON
Nadal – 6/11
Djere – 1/5

World number one Novak Djokovic is in favour of technology replacing linespeople across the ATP Tour amid the absence of judges at the Australian Open.

This year's Australian Open is being held without line judges as a response to coronavirus restrictions at Melbourne Park, where "Hawk-Eye Live" technology is being used on every court. 

It is the first grand slam to replace all linespeople with technology as the tournament seeks to limit the number of people on court amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Djokovic was sensationally disqualified in the fourth round of last year's US Open for inadvertently hitting a ball at a line judge during his clash with Pablo Carreno Busta in New York.

Asked about the situation at the Australian Open, defending champion and eight-time winner Djokovic told reporters: "I think back [at the] US Open last year, someone asked me whether I would support the idea of introducing this kind of line call technology at every tournament.

"Obviously providing that the tournament is able to afford financially that kind of investment, because obviously it is an investment.

"I said that I support that, because I feel, yes, I understand that there is a tradition and history and the way we kind of got used to the line umpires being there, and I think it's nice that there is a lot of people and also volunteers with these line umpires that love tennis and love to have an opportunity to be out on the court and be close to the players and be part of a great event.

"But I think when you draw a line that generally I actually am in favour of technology. I think it's proven to be very accurate in this particular instance.  I don't see a reason why we need the line umpires, to be honest, if we have technology like this. I would of course keep the ball kids, but line calls I'm in favour of this technology."

Djokovic was speaking after beginning his quest for a ninth Australian Open title with a 6-3 6-1 6-2 win over Jeremy Chardy on Monday.

The 17-time grand slam champion is trying to close the gap on 20-time major winners Roger Federer - who is absent from this year's event - and Rafael Nadal.

"I respect all of my opponents' records. I think especially Roger and Rafa, what they have achieved over the years. They are legends of our sport, and I admire them a lot," Djokovic said. "They have positively affected my game and my growth, my development and all my success. Wouldn't be what it is if these two guys were not there.

"I have had tremendous rivalries with these two guys and we still keep on going. But I don't want any of their success, if you know what I mean. I'm not jealous of their success or anything like that. I try to build my own authentic career and my own success, and I stick to that."

Djokovic added: "I am always motivated and inspired to achieve big goals and break records. I would lie if I say that's not, you know, something that I'm thinking about or that my attention is not going that way.

"I have been very transparent about the fact that one of the biggest goals is to try to reach the number one of all time weeks' record, and I'm getting closer and closer to that one. That's a kind of a lifetime achievement for me. 

"Grand slams, as well. Of course the Masters events, I think the 1000 events over the years I have managed to be very consistent and win a lot of titles there. Those are the biggest events that we have on the four other than grand slams.  The head-to-head records with top guys as well, to name a few. I try to be a good student of the game. 

"I'm just very fortunate to be in this situation and position that I'm in at the moment, so I try to keep on going and obviously setting up new goals for myself, because I feel like other than passion and love that I have for the game and the biggest reason why I still play it is exactly that pure emotion that I have of enjoyment when I'm there and excitement.

"As a professional tennis player, I need to have goals. Over the last 15 years, everything that I have managed to achieve, I don't settle for anything less but the top of the men's game and the biggest trophies.  That's something I always aim for. I work towards that.  And yeah, I'm still lucky to be where I am. Let's see what the future holds."

The war of words between Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios continued on day one of the Australian Open, while Gael Monfils was reduced to tears after a first-round exit.

Reigning champion Djokovic cruised past Jeremy Chardy 6-3 6-1 6-2 in just over an hour and a half but was unwilling to be drawn on comments made by Kyrgios following the home favourite's 6-4 6-4 6-4 success against Frederico Ferreira Silva.

Djokovic, who has now won 15 straight Australian Open matches, will take on Frances Tiafoe next and Kyrgios has a meeting with Ugo Humbert. A potential crossing of their paths on court could not happen until the semi-finals.

Monfils, seeded 10th at Melbourne Park, could not hide his emotions after succumbing to a 3-6 6-4 7-5 3-6 6-3 defeat in a five-set thriller against Emil Ruusuvuori.

Benoit Paire was the only other seed to go out on day one, with Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Diego Schwartzman and Stan Wawrinka picking up victories.

 

"HE'S A STRANGE CAT"

On the eve of the first grand slam of the year Djokovic said he had "no respect" for Kyrgios off the court, which the Australian was confused by as he pointed out the charitable work he has done during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kyrgios was previously critical of the Adria Tour organised by Djokovic last year, which ended with multiple players testing positive for COVID-19.

Asked about the Serbian's pre-tournament comment, Kyrgios said: "It actually would make complete sense to me if he was like, 'Look, I don't respect the guy on the court.' Because I understand if he doesn't agree with some of my antics on the court that I have done in the past.

"He's a very strange cat, Novak is. Heck of a tennis player, but unfortunately someone that's partying with his shirt off during a global pandemic, I don't know if I can take any slack from that man. That's as bad as it gets for me."

When a reporter asked if they could read those comments out to Djokovic in his post-match news conference, the 17-time major champion replied: "You can read it, but I'm not gonna answer to anything."

Upon hearing the remarks and being asked if he had a reply, Djokovic simply said: "No."

 

ANOTHER LOSS FOR MONFILS

Having lost his first-round match to Ruusuvuori, who incredibly saved 17 break points, Monfils remained without a win on the ATP Tour since February 2020.

The Frenchman was eliminated in the first round at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2006 and admitted he had lost all his self-belief and was finding it extremely difficult to get himself back on track.

"I don't have any confidence. I would like to get out of this nightmare but I can't," said Monfils.

"I don’t know when it's going to end. It's hard. Every time I get here I feel judged, I've lost again. I can't serve, I'm playing badly. I'm being honest and it's going to take time."

 

BEST OF THE REST

Thiem made light work of Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6 (7-2) 6-2 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Dominik Koepfer, but Zverev had to come from a set down to beat Marcos Giron 6-7 (8-10), 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 6-2. He will face Maxime Cressy next.

Denis Shapovalov also had to fight back to defeat Jannik Sinner, who reached the French Open quarter-finals last year, in an entertaining five-setter on Margaret Court Arena.

Marin Cilic, the runner-up at Melbourne Park in 2018, went down 6-4 6-2 7-6 (7-5) to Grigor Dimitrov, while Pablo Carreno Busta overcame Kei Nishikori 7-5 7-6 (7-4) 6-2.

There were straight-set wins for Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Felix Auger-Aliassime against Paulo Sousa, Federico Coria and Cedrik-Marcel Stebe respectively, and Schwartzman defeated Elias Ymer 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 2-6 6-2.

Novak Djokovic began his quest for a ninth Australian Open title with a convincing straight-sets win over Jeremy Chardy.

The reigning champion and world number one looked in ruthless form as he won 6-3 6-1 6-2 in a little over an hour and a half.

Djokovic, who beat Dominic Thiem in a five-set thriller in the 2020 final, was in an authoritative mood as he took the first two sets in just 56 minutes.

Chardy, whose best grand slam result was reaching the quarter-finals in Melbourne in 2013, offered some valiant resistance in game five of the third set before Djokovic eventually claimed the crucial double break.

The 17-time major winner eased through the final two games in front of a jubilant crowd, finishing with back-to-back aces to set up a second-round match with Frances Tiafoe.

"It makes my heart full to see the crowd in a stadium again," said Djokovic, who has reached at least the semi-final stage in seven of his previous nine majors.

"There's an ongoing love affair between me and the Rod Laver Arena. It's definitely one of the most special courts on the tennis tour around the world and my most successful. Every time I step on this court, I relive those memories."

Djokovic's preparations for the tournament were overshadowed by a row over quarantine conditions for players arriving in Australia, the 33-year-old having lobbied Tennis Australia and state authorities to loosen restrictions for 72 players who had to spend two weeks in their hotel rooms.

There was little about his performance on Monday to suggest any distractions from the task at hand, although he bristled a little in the on-court interview when it was put to him he had been "frustrated" in recent weeks.

"I'm just really glad we're free, playing tennis, back in Australia," he then said. "It's a happy place for us, a happy slam."

 

Data Slam: Djokovic at his clinical best

Djokovic dropped just nine points on serve and hit 41 winners to just 11 unforced errors, sending down nine aces and one double fault.

Such imperious play left Chardy, who had lost all 13 of their previous encounters, with little chance of an upset.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 41/11
Chardy – 20/26

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 9/1
Chardy – 3/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 6/13
Chardy – 0/0

Rafael Nadal is "doing everything possible" to play a part in the Australian Open after suffering from back pain for the past two weeks.

The 34-year-old pulled out of Spain's line-up for the ATP Cup earlier this week and was last in competitive action in November's ATP Finals.

Nadal is due to face Laslo Djere in the first round on Tuesday as he seeks a second Australian Open title, but the Spaniard cannot guarantee he will be able to play the match.

"It's not great, obviously," he said. "It's true that for the last 15 days I have been suffering.

"In the beginning, the muscle was just a little bit tired, but I now feel a little bit more stiff than usual.

"The muscle is still tight, so it is difficult to play with freedom of movement."

But Nadal, who has a history of back injuries, is refusing to withdraw from the tournament.

"I have Monday and then playing Tuesday. I don't think about not playing," he said.

"We are doing everything. My physio is here, the doctors [are] here, everybody is helping me in all possible ways. I hope to be ready, that's all. I know sometimes things change quick."

Nadal is not alone in entering the first grand slam of the year below full strength, with the likes of Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin and Naomi Osaka also battling injury problems.

However, the world number two will not use his niggling back issue as an excuse should he suffer an early exit at Melbourne Park.

"I'm not a big fan of finding excuses," he said. "When things happen, you need to find a way to get through."

Nadal can surpass Roger Federer for all-time majors should he triumph at the Australian Open.

He is also looking to become only the second man after Rod Laver to win each major on more than one occasion in the Open era, but his only previous success at the tournament came 12 years ago.

"I think I had the big chance in 2014. I got injured during the match on the back. It was tough," he said.

"I had another good chance in 2012, another good chance in 2017 with a break up in the fifth. I just didn't win the match. 

"That's all, I can't find another reason. It is true that I missed a couple of Australian Opens for injuries, too."

World number four Daniil Medvedev clinched ATP Cup success for Russia, who defeated Italy in Melbourne on Sunday.

On the eve of the Australian Open, Medvedev boosted his preparations by guiding Russia past Italy thanks to a 6-4 6-2 victory over Matteo Berrettini at Melbourne Park.

It was a dominant display from Russia, who won all eight singles matches they played in the ATP Cup, after Andrey Rublev overpowered Fabio Fognini 6-1 6-2 in the second matchup.

"I want to thank my team. Andrey won all of his matches," Medvedev said. "Thank you for being with me here and lifting this trophy in a few moments."

Medvedev heads in Monday's Australian Open in red-hot form, having won a personal-best 14 successive matches, dating back to the start of last year's Paris Masters.

Of those victories, 10 have come against top-10 opponents as 2019 US Open runner-up Medvedev – seeded fourth for the year's first grand slam – prepares to face Vasek Pospisil on Tuesday.

"It's a really big achievement because I also didn't lose a match. Yeah, 10 matches against Top 10 opponents, didn't lose a match in these 10 matches. It's a big boost in confidence," Medvedev said.

"Even when you lose, you know that you're capable of playing this level, and it helps you for the next time to stand up."

While Italy did not taste team success, Jannik Sinner claimed the Great Ocean Road Open on Sunday.

Sinner overcame countryman Stefano Travaglia 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 to earn his second title following the first all-Italian ATP Tour final since 1988.

The 19-year-old Sinner is the youngest player to win two ATP Tour titles since world number one Novak Djokovic (19) in 2006, while he is also the youngest player to celebrate back-to-back trophies since 20-time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal (19) in 2005.

Elsewhere, eighth seed Daniel Evans defeated Canadian sensation Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-2 6-3 to claim his first tour-level title.

Evans became the first Brit to win an ATP Tour title since Kyle Edmund at the New York Open last February.

World number one Novak Djokovic said he does not have "much respect" for outspoken Australian star Nick Kyrgios away from the tennis court.

Kyrgios has been critical of Djokovic in an ongoing feud with the 17-time grand slam champion, who was labelled a "tool" by the former following a list of requests made to Tennis Australia (TA) and the Victorian government for tennis players stuck in hotel quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Former world number 13 Kyrgios was also critical of Djokovic's decision to stage the Adria Tour in Europe last August – in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis – having previously dubbed the Serb star "cringeworthy".

Djokovic rekindled his rivalry with Kyrgios after being asked about the 25-year-old on the eve of the Australian Open.

"I've said this before," Djokovic told reporters on Sunday. "I think he's good for the sport. Obviously he's someone that is different. He goes about his tennis, he goes about his off court things in his own authentic way. 

"I have respect for him. I have respect for everyone else really because everyone has a right and freedom to choose how they want to express themselves, what they want to do. My respect goes to him for the tennis he's playing. I think he's very talented guy. He's got a big game. He has proven that he has a quality to beat any player really in the world in the past.

"Off the court, I don't have much respect for him, to be honest. That's where I'll close it. I really don't have any further comments for him, his own comments for me or anything else he's trying to do."

Djokovic has won the past two Australian Open finals as he eyes a record-extending ninth Melbourne Park crown.

The 33-year-old, who opens his title defence against Jeremy Chardy on Monday, has won the Australian Open every time he has reached the semi-finals.

Djokovic has reached at least the semi-finals in seven of his last nine grand slam tournaments, winning five of them.

No male has won more Australian Open men's singles titles than Djokovic, who said: "It's a love affair. Probably something similar maybe not like Rafa [Nadal] has with the French Open, but I've been feeling more comfortable on the court each year that I've been coming back. 

"The more you win, obviously the more confidence you have and the more pleasant you feel on the court. It just feels right. If you're in the right state of mind, regardless of the surface, you have a better chance to play at your best.

"When I stepped on the court this year for the first time in the practice session, I relived some of the memories from last year, also the other years that I won the tournament here.

"It just gives me great sensation, great feeling, confidence. It feels right. It feels like the place where I should be and where I have historically always been able to perform my best tennis. Hopefully can be another successful year."

Asked if he still feels nerves, Djokovic – who is looking to close the gap on Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer (both 20) for the most slam trophies – added: "Every match, every match. Every single match. I don't want to speak on behalf of the other athletes, but I just feel like it's almost impossible to eliminate that kind of pressure, anticipation, the nerves coming into any match really for an athlete. At least in my case.

"It's just that I managed over the years to train myself, I think with the experience and with also the dedication that I had off the court to the mental preparation, that helped me react better to those kind of emotions. Sometimes I don't manage to overcome the pressures and the stress and nerves. Sometimes I do. It really just depends. Even though I've been blessed to experience a lot of success, especially here in Australia, but also in my career. I still feel that those failures, if you want to call them that way, even though I don't believe in failures, I just believe in opportunities to improve, kind of the lessons to be learned, but in those matches you lose, big matches, that's where you learn the most.

"That's where you're facing the kind of wall mentally. You're upset. You have a lot of different things happening, and you feel like you let yourself down. That's where it's the biggest opportunity for you to really address that and become stronger, more capable. You can get to know yourself a little bit on deeper levels. It still happens to me.

"Every single tournament, regardless of my previous success, of course I do feel that I have more confidence, more experience, maybe more training in understanding how to deal with these specific situations when I'm coming on the big court, being expected to win 99 per cent of the matches that I play.

"But it's still there. It's still there. I don't think it's ever going to go away. Especially when the occasion is big, when you're playing for the biggest trophies."

Daniil Medvedev won a marathon match against Alexander Zverev to send Russia into the final of the ATP Cup for the first time.

The world number four and reigning ATP Finals champion triumphed 3-6 6-3 7-5 at Melbourne Park in a match lasting just under two hours and 40 minutes.

That result clinched victory over Germany in the semi-final after Andrey Rublev had earler fought back in style from a set down to defeat Jan-Lennard Struff 3-6 6-1 6-2.

"We're really happy to get the win, that's the most important [thing," Medvedev said. "Tough matches [for] both of us. Both [Andrey and I] lost the first set. [It was] not easy, because we had two days off before the match. But happy we're in the final. That's the most important."

Zverev appeared in control after breaking to go 3-2 ahead in the second set after winning the first, but Medvedev reeled off four games in a row as the world number seven began to struggle with a lower back problem.

"When it's against Sascha and you are 6-3, 3-2, break down, many times you're going to lose a match," Medvedev said. "But I needed to keep my chances alive for the team first of all, for the country. I just tried to stay there, got a bit tight maybe. I just did my job and I'm really happy about it."

Russia will meet Italy in the final following their defeat of Spain, which was secured by Matteo Berrettini's straight-sets win over Roberto Bautista Agut.

After Fabio Fognini saw off Pablo Carreno Busta in three sets, Berrettini - who has beaten three of the top 13 players in the world without dropping a set in this tournament - won 6-3 7-5 to set up Sunday's Russia showdown.

"It's an unbelievable feeling," said a delighted Berrettini, who was absent last year as Italy failed to progress from their group in the inaugural staging of the event. "Last year I couldn't make it, so I'm really happy that the first time that I played we are into the final.

"I'm feeling good. I'm feeling pumped. I'm feeling great to play not just for me, but for my team and for Italy in general. That's what matters the most. I'm really looking forward to playing tomorrow."

 

SINNER TO FACE FAMILIAR FOE

There will be an all-Italian affair in the final of the Great Ocean Road Open, with Jannik Sinner to face Stefano Travaglia.

In-form Sinner clinched an impressive 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 7-6 (7-4) win over second seed Karen Khachanov, in a three-hour battle, after his compatriot beat Thiago Monteiro 6-3 6-4.

At the Murray River Open, Felix Auger-Aliassime will meet Dan Evans in the final as each look to secure a first ATP Tour title.

Auger-Aliassime needed only 61 minutes to beat Corentin Moutet, while eighth seed Evans required a minute less to ease past Jeremy Chardy.

Rafael Nadal has history in his sights, but Novak Djokovic stands in his way at an Australian Open he has almost made his own.

With Roger Federer absent from the year's first grand slam, all eyes in the men's draw will be on Nadal and Djokovic.

As the fight between the 'Big Three' continues as to who will finish their career with the most majors, Melbourne shapes as again playing a key part, particularly amid the ongoing uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic. After winning his 13th French Open last year, the equation is simple for Nadal. His success at Roland Garros drew him level with Federer on 20 majors, the most by a man all-time.

But with the GOAT debate sure to continue for decades to come, a second title in Melbourne would also lift the Spaniard into uncharted territory. Nadal has the chance to become the first man in the Open Era to win every grand slam at least twice. Federer and Djokovic are both missing a second crown at Roland Garros.

For all his dominance in Paris, that would add another feather to the cap for 34-year-old Nadal. Most of Federer's major success has come at Wimbledon (eight titles), while Djokovic's has been at the Australian Open (also eight titles) – both establishing men's records at those tournaments. Nadal has been runner-up four times in Melbourne since his only title in 2009, while he has reached at least the quarter-finals in the past four years.

But just as Nadal, who is dealing with a back injury ahead of the tournament, stands in the way at the French Open, he will need to get past Djokovic – or have some luck – in Australia.

The Serbian has a 75-8 win-loss record at the tournament, including winning the past two titles. He has won the crown every time he has reached the semi-finals. Djokovic's previous blip in Melbourne came in 2017 and 2018, surprisingly beaten by Denis Istomin (second round) and Chung Hyeon (fourth round) respectively.

A year younger than Nadal, Djokovic is a 17-time grand slam champion, and he has made no secret of his desire to hold the record for most majors won by a man. Djokovic and Nadal have claimed nine of the past 10 majors, although the other one came recently as Dominic Thiem clinched last year's US Open, where the Spaniard and Federer were absent.

With preparations impacted by COVID-19, perhaps Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev or Andrey Rublev could threaten as the wait goes on for a changing of the guard in men's tennis.

But all eyes are unsurprisingly on Nadal and Djokovic as history again beckons.

Novak Djokovic said it was "a tough one" to take after Serbia's hopes of retaining the ATP Cup title were ended by defeat to Germany.

The world number one scored a tense 6-7 (3-7) 6-2 7-5 victory over Alexander Zverev in their singles rubber, levelling the match after Jan-Lennard Struff beat Dusan Lajovic in three sets.

Zverev and Struff then teamed up in doubles to net a 7-6 (7-4) 5-7 10-7 win over Djokovic and Nikola Cacic.

The singles workout and win sets up the eight-time Australian Open champion well for the start of that grand slam next week, which was the consolation Djokovic could take from defeat.

Speaking about his singles clash with Zverev, Djokovic said: "It was anybody's game really. He was a set up, a couple points here and there in the beginning of the second. I just returned well when I needed to and closed out the match.

"It's never easy playing against Sascha [Zverev] when he's in form, and he's in really good form. We pushed each other to the very limit, and I'm glad that I had such a battle with him.

"It's unfortunate we lost the tie. That's what this competition is all about. It's about the team, not about winning one match, a singles match. Yeah, it's a tough one."

Germany advance to face Russia in the semi-finals on Saturday, with Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev a formidable combination awaiting them.

Spain secured a shot at Italy in the second semi-final, despite a 2-1 defeat to Greece on Friday.

The Spanish team needed just one win in the group-stage match to advance, and that predictably came as Pablo Carreno Busta, ranked 16th by the ATP, beat world number 462 Michail Pervolarakis.

His 6-3 6-4 success could not be matched by team-mate Roberto Bautista Agut, who fell to a 7-5 7-5 defeat against Stefanos Tsitsipas, while Spain retired from the doubles rubber after one game, giving Greece a 2-1 success in the tie.

It remains to be seen whether Rafael Nadal will be fit to play any part in the semi-final, with the 20-time grand slam champion having been absent so far in the campaign due to a back injury.

"He's working very hard to recover his best feelings," said Spain captain Pepe Vendrell.

"Obviously he couldn't play any matches during the week. It's a situation that we have to study. But day by day he's improving. We will see [on Saturday] if he can play."


AWAY FROM THE ATP CUP, WAWRINKA ABANDONS

In the Murray River Open, Stan Wawrinka withdrew from his quarter-final with Jeremy Chardy after beating Australian Alex Bolt in a tough three-set match earlier in the day. Corentin Moutet, Dan Evans and Felix Auger-Aliassime joined Chardy in the last-four line-up.

Evans defeated Borna Coric, who had eliminated Australian hope Nick Kyrgios in his previous match.

All ATP and WTA tournaments are being played at Melbourne Park this week.

Thursday's play was cancelled due to a COVID-19 case affecting a worker from a hotel that accommodated quarantining players, and that meant Friday's schedule was packed.

The Great Ocean Road Open also saw players needing to win two matches in a day to reach the semi-finals, with Karen Khachanov, Thiago Monteiro and the Italian pair of Jannik Sinner and Stefano Travaglia coming through.

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic could face Dominic Thiem in a mouth-watering semi-final after being handed a tough path to success at Melbourne Park, where Serena Williams will continue her quest for a 24th grand slam singles title.

The Australian Open draw took place on Friday, with world number one Djokovic set to play Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the opening round of the year's first major tournament.

Amid coronavirus concerns in Melbourne, where Swiss great Roger Federer is absent, Djokovic has set his sights on a ninth crown and 18th major success, but the top seed's title defence is far from straightforward.

Djokovic could face Gael Monfils (fourth round) and sixth seed Alexander Zverev (quarter-final) en route to a possible semi-final against US Open champion and third seed Thiem.

The Serb overcame Thiem in a five-set thriller in last year's Australian Open final, before the latter broke through for his maiden major trophy at Flushing Meadows.

Djokovic could then meet second seed and 20-time major champion Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster final – he blitzed the Spanish superstar in the 2019 Australian Open decider but lost in three one-sided sets in their previous meeting in the French Open final.

Nadal will go head-to-head with another Serb in the first round – Laslo Djere – while Stefanos Tsitsipas could await in the quarters, with 2019 US Open final opponent Daniil Medvedev also on the same side of the draw.

Meanwhile, Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th slam will begin against German Laura Siegemund.

The 39-year-old Williams has been stuck on 23 majors since winning the Australian Open in 2017 – losing finals at Wimbledon (2018 and 2019) and the US Open (2018 and 2019).

World number one and local hope Ashleigh Barty will meet Montenegro's Danka Kovinic in round one and defending champion Sofia Kenin faces Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis.

The last 16 could see Williams clash with Aryna Sabalenka, Barty meet Petra Martic, Kenin tackle Johanna Konta and three-time major champion Naomi Osaka do battle with last year's runner-up Garbine Muguruza.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said there were no plans to change the schedule for the major amid coronavirus concerns.

More than 500 players and officials were forced into isolation after a worker at an Australian Open quarantine hotel tested positive for COVID-19.

It led to play at lead-up events in Melbourne on Thursday being called off and sparked fears around the year's first grand slam, which is scheduled to begin on Monday.

But Tiley is hoping play is back underway on Friday and said he expects the Australian Open to start as scheduled.

"The intention is to start the Australian Open on Monday so there's no intention of changing the time for the Australian Open," he told a news conference.

Tiley added: "We're absolutely confident the Australian Open is going to go ahead.

"We know that we've got a period now that we've got to work through with those 507 players and their staff, 160 players actually, that need a test and we fully expect the probability is very low that there's going to be any issue.

"We fully expect them all to test negative and then we continue with play tomorrow like we originally planned and if we have to go through this again we'll continue to go through this again and we've got another three and a half weeks of tennis, we've got a lot of tennis to play and fully expect to keep the original schedule once we get past today."

The draw for the Australian Open was pushed back to Friday, while crowds are still expected to be in attendance for the major.

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