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Evert admits Murray fear after tough Aussie draw

 

Big hit: Andy Murray serves during a practice match against Novak Djokovic in Melbourne
Big hit: Andy Murray serves during a practice match against Novak Djokovic in Melbourne

By Eleanor Crooks

Andy Murray will make his return to the Australian Open with a tough first-round match against Roberto Bautista Agut.

The Spanish 22nd seed defeated Novak Djokovic on his way to the title in Doha last week while concerns about Murray's fitness grew as he struggled through a practice match against World No.1 Djokovic at Melbourne Park.

Eighteen-time Grand Slam singles champion Chris Evert fears for Murray's future.

The American said: "Andy Murray has been one of the best champions as far as good hard work ethics out there.

"I think what is hurting him - because to me, when I watch him, I feel pain - I feel like it's not the same Andy as two or three years ago.

"I think he'll know in the first three months of the year what his future plans are going to be.

"I think if he had a bigger serve, kept the rallies shorter, was more aggressive, I think that might make a difference. But his kind of game, it's very much like (Rafa) Nadal, they're grinders.

"They have to work so hard to win a point. I think in the long run, that's going to hurt him as far as longevity is concerned."

Kyle Edmund, back at the scene of his semi-final appearance 12 months ago, was also given a difficult opener against former top-10 stalwart Tomas Berdych, who is unseeded following injury.

Cameron Norrie goes into the tournament as Britain's form man and he faces a rematch with American Taylor Fritz, who he defeated to reach the semi-finals of the ASB Classic in Auckland last Thursday.

Defending champion Roger Federer takes on Denis Istomin in round one and is in the same half of the draw as Rafael Nadal, who faces Australian James Duckworth.

Djokovic, who like Federer is bidding for a record seventh title in Melbourne, will play a qualifier in round one.

Federer has won the title the last two years and has an extra carrot having gone into the season on 99 career singles titles. One more here would see him follow Jimmy Connors as the only man in the Open era to hit three figures, as well as taking him past Djokovic and Roy Emerson at Melbourne Park.

He said: "It is already an incredible number. I could live happily ever after on 99. But being so close, I'll give it a go. If it happens defending this title, I would gladly accept it. Reaching 100 would be truly very special."

All the active Grand Slam winners in the men's game are over 30 and one of the most intriguing storylines will be whether the new generation can finally break the stranglehold.

John McEnroe sees the changing of the guard coming in 2019, saying: "This will be the year that you are going to see one of these young kids break through.

"The door is open, if you look at the rankings you have (Alexander) Zverev at four, (Karen) Khachanov at 11, (Stefanos) Tsitipas is around. You have (Denis) Shapavalov in the 20s, (Borna) Coric is in the low teens, so you have a lot positioned to make a big breakthrough."

In the women's draw, Johanna Konta begins her campaign against Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic, who she lost to in Brisbane last week.

Konta is in a loaded top quarter of the draw that also includes World No.1 Simona Halep, who faces a rematch with her US Open conqueror Kaia Kanepi, Serena and Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Karolina Pliskova.

Serena Williams, who is seeded 16th, faces fellow mother Tatjana Maria of Germany in her first competitive match since her tempestuous US Open final loss to Naomi Osaka.

Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki takes on Belgium's Alison van Uytvanck and could potentially meet 30th seed Maria Sharapova in a tasty third round match.

British No.2 Heather Watson takes on 31st seed Petra Martic from Croatia, while Katie Boulter, in her first Slam main draw outside of Wimbledon, meets experienced Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

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