Plenty to ponder for tennis' big guns

1 / 7
Serena Williams lost her comeback match yesterday, leaving her short of form. (AFP)
2 / 7
Novak Djokovic
3 / 7
Victoria Azarenka
4 / 7
Andy Murray
5 / 7
Rafael Nada
6 / 7
Roger Federer
7 / 7
Maria Sharapova
Updated 31 December 2017

Plenty to ponder for tennis' big guns

LONDON: As the new tennis season gets underway this weekend, several top players are in flux with questions over their form and fitness. We look at the varying fortunes of seven big names.
SERENA WILLIAMS
The American great is attempting one of the great comebacks in sport as she returns to the court just four months after becoming a mother. Williams, who welcomed her first child, Alexis Olympia, in September, lost her comeback match yesterday, an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko. Williams, who hasn’t played since she won the Australian Open 11 months ago — while pregnant — is expected to defend her title in Melbourne next month. Williams, 36, has won an Open-era record of 23 Grand Slam singles titles, and now stands to equal Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24. She will take heart from the example of Belgium’s Kim Clijsters, who retired for two years and started a family before winning the 2009 US Open, in what was dubbed the “mother of all comebacks.”
MARIA SHARAPOVA
Russia’s Sharapova will look for a strong start to her season at the Shenzhen Open after a mixed return to the circuit in April following a 15-month drugs ban. The five-time major-winner, one of the highest earners in women’s sport, suffered a string of early defeats before she broke through to win the Tianjin Open in October — her first title since 2015. Next month, Sharapova will play her first Australian Open since 2016 after improving her ranking to 59th. Her best Grand Slam performance of 2017 was reaching the last 16 at the US Open.
RAFAEL NADAL
Defying all expectations, Nadal brilliantly revived his glory days in 2017, winning his 10th French Open and third US Open title, and finishing the season as world No. 1. But familiar injury doubts have made for an uncertain start to the new campaign as Nadal, 31, pulled out of the Brisbane International saying he was “not ready.” Reports have cast doubt over Nadal’s recovery from a right-knee injury after he earlier withdrew from an exhibition appearance in Abu Dhabi. However, Nadal said he’ll play the Australian Open and he has made a habit of overcoming fitness problems throughout his long career.
ROGER FEDERER
The 36-year-old also rolled back the years in 2017 and is showing no signs of slowing down as he builds toward his Australian Open title defense. Federer said he’s fit and ready after a “great” off-season and he made a winning return to action at the Hopman Cup in Perth yesterday. Much will depend on the health of his Big Four rivals, but Federer could continue to set new standards for longevity this year.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC
Can the “Djoker” regain his smile? King Novak ruled tennis for nearly two years until a sudden loss of form, coinciding with speculation over his private life, in mid-2016. The 12-time major-winner hasn’t played since retiring from the Wimbledon quarterfinals with an elbow injury in July, and he shapes as an unknown quantity heading into the new season. Djokovic, who has Andre Agassi in his coaching team, has his first hit-out against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
ANDY MURRAY
Fitness doubts linger over the British former world No. 1, who has also been off the circuit since July after suffering a hip injury. Murray, 30, began last season as the world No. 1 but he has far more modest goals heading into 2018. “I want to get back to playing tennis, I want to be fit and healthy and that is what is driving me just now,” he told Sky Sports this week. “I was pretty unhealthy for most of this year and I am getting there but it is a slow process.”
VICTORIA AZARENKA
Azarenka’s return from maternity leave this year was complicated by a custody battle over her one-year-old, which forced her to miss much of the season. With her ranking down at 210, the Belarusian former world No. 1 has been handed a wildcard to play the Australian Open, a tournament she has won twice. However, as the legal case drags on, Azarenka announced her withdrawal from next month’s Auckland Classic for personal reasons, casting doubt over her participation in Melbourne.


Nadal, Kyrgios advance as freak weather hits Australian Open

Updated 23 January 2020

Nadal, Kyrgios advance as freak weather hits Australian Open

  • The weather-disrupted tournament on Thursday was hit by dirty rain which left courts muddy and unplayable.

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios reached the Australian Open third round on Thursday after the weather-disrupted tournament faced a new challenge: Dirty rain which left courts muddy and unplayable.

After a day of cleanup operations and delays, Australia’s Kyrgios fought his way past Frenchman Gilles Simon in four sets and Wimbledon champion Simona Halep stamped her class with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Britain’s Harriet Dar, while Belinda Bencic knocked out former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko — she was playing despite the sudden death of her father this month.

Nadal, a 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-1 winner over Argentina’s Federico Delbonis, miscued a shot that hit a ballgirl in the head, but he melted hearts when he apologized and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“I was so scared for her, honestly,” the 19-time Grand Slam winner said. “The ball was quick and straight on the head. She’s a very brave girl.”

Kyrgios, increasingly popular with home fans after his fundraising efforts for Australia’s bushfire crisis, was cruising at two sets up when he dropped the third set and with it, his composure.

But just when it looked like he would suffer one of his trademark implosions, he rallied for a 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

“I definitely lost my way a little bit ... but I decided to refocus,” Kyrgios said of his mini-meltdown in the third set. “I could have gone to a very dark place in the fourth set but I put it away.”

Kyrgios and Nadal stay on course for a fourth-round clash and the next instalment in their grudge match after the Aussie hit back at criticism from the “super salty” Spaniard last year.

Their victories followed a day of upheaval caused by the dirty rain, the latest weather problem at a tournament which has contended with bushfire smoke, heavy downpours and strong wind.

Rain mixed with a dust storm coated the Melbourne Park facilities in a fine layer of mud which took hours to clean and made many outside courts temporarily unusable.

As action resumed Alexander Zverev, another man who has a running feud with Kyrgios, showed signs of a return to form as he downed Egor Gerasimov 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 7-5.

The German seventh seed has been practicing up to seven hours a day after a winless ATP Cup and the hard work paid off as he safely reached the third round.

However, fifth seed Dominic Thiem had a scare as he was taken to five sets by Australia’s 140th-ranked Alex Bolt before recovering his composure to win 6-2, 5-7, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-2.