Novak Djokovic heads into the Australian Open second round on the back of dropping a rare set in his first outing in Melbourne.

The Serbian star, a record seven-time champion of the event, needed four sets to get through his opener.

Still, Djokovic remains on track ahead of facing wildcard Tatsuma Ito in the second round on Wednesday.

We take a closer look at the 16-time grand slam champion's form heading into the clash.

Form and results

Even Djokovic managed a first in his opening-round win. The 32-year-old dropped a set and won in the Australian Open first round for the first time in his career by getting past Jan-Lennard Struff in four. The last time he had dropped a set in his opener in Melbourne was in 2006, when he was beaten by Paul Goldstein. Djokovic may be better off for the test, having gone 6-0 in singles at the ATP Cup to begin his 2020.

R1: bt Struff 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 2-6 6-1

Next up

Due to rain, Ito's opener was pushed back to Tuesday, but the 31-year-old from Japan needed little time to brush past lucky loser Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-4 6-2 7-5. Ito is the world number 146, but did manage a best ranking of 60 in 2012. However, he has played mostly on the Challenger Tour since 2013 and has never met Djokovic, who will be favoured to ease through.

Draw

If Djokovic gets past Ito as expected, he will face 30th seed Dan Evans or Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka in the third round. Diego Schwartzman (14th seed) and Dusan Lajovic (24th) are potential fourth-round opponents.

What he said

"It’s great to be back in this arena that has a very special place in my heart. This has been by far the most successful court in my career, I love coming back to Australia, the land of tennis. I want to thank everyone for staying until midnight and supporting both players."

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic savoured his win over Jan-Lennard Struff, highlighting his grand slam success after difficult first-round matches.   

Djokovic - eyeing a record-extending eighth Australian Open title - kicked off his title defence with a hard-fought 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 2-6 6-1 victory against tenacious German Struff in Melbourne on Monday.

The 16-time slam champion looked set to close out a straight-sets win after surviving a tense first set, in which he committed 12 unforced errors, before Struff rallied to force a fourth on Rod Laver Arena.

Djokovic, though, was not to be denied a 900th ATP career victory and the Serb star told reporters: "I actually like tough first rounds in grand slams particularly.

"Historically I had lots of success in grand slams where I had tough opponents in the first round. Because it gets me going. 

"From the beginning I have to be alert, I have to be on a high level. I think I was."

Djokovic, who will face either Japanese wildcard Tatsuma Ito or lucky loser Prajnesh Gunneswaran in the second round, added: "Overall it was a really solid start, especially in the second and the fourth set I played on a higher level. [I] served pretty good, lots of aces, high percentage of first serves in.

"I felt kind of in control of the match. Even when I lost the third set I just felt like 'if I am on the right level, I have the upper hand'. I ended this match in a good fashion, in a right way and this is very positive."

Novak Djokovic vowed to "enjoy every moment" after reaching the second round of the Australian Open on an opening day that saw seeds Denis Shapovalov and Borna Coric crash out.

Djokovic started the defence of his title with a battling 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 2-6 6-1 victory over Jan-Lennard Struff at Melbourne Park on Monday.

Losing his serve three times while dropping the third set and having to edge a close tie-break in the opener meant Djokovic spent longer than he would have hoped on court, but he relished the two-hour-and-16-minute encounter.

Asked about winning his 900th Tour-level match, the second seed said: "I'm obviously very proud of all the achievements, but at the same time I try to remind myself how grateful I am to be playing this sport at a high level at this stage of my career. 

"I can't take things for granted, I'm trying to enjoy every moment. It's a New Year resolution, to enjoy more. It's easier said than done when you're on the court.

"Especially in my position, I'm expected to win all my matches, there's a lot of pressure and emotions involved. But I try to really enjoy it, the two and half hours spent on court were a lot of fun."


SHAPOVALOV AND CORIC FALL AT FIRST HURDLE

The biggest shock of the day saw number 13 seed Shapovalov fall to a four-set defeat against Hungarian world number 67 Marton Fucsovics.

Fucsovics won 7-3 6-7 (7-9) 6-1 7-6 (7-3) in three hours and 13 minutes as the highly-rated Canadian crashed out.

Shapovalov lost his temper with the umpire when he was giving a code violation for racket abuse despite it not being damaged.

"I think that's a terrible call from the [umpire]," Shapovalov said. "The rule [according to] what I know is that if I break my racket, yeah you can code me, but you can't code me for slamming it.

"I'm not doing anything and it didn't impact anyone and the racket was still intact. He gave me a warning because I did it two or three times and I think that's not the way it works."

Number 25 seed Coric was eliminated in straight sets by Sam Querrey. 

The American won 6-3 6-4 6-4 as a dreadful run for Coric, which has seen him win only one of his last 10 matches, went on.
 

FEDERER AND TSITSIPAS COAST THROUGH

Roger Federer progressed in comfortable fashion, the third seed seeing off Steve Johnson 6-3 6-2 6-2 in only 81 minutes.

Johnson only forced one break-point opportunity in the match against the 20-time grand slam and did not convert it.

Sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, the ATP Finals champion and a semi-finalist in Melbourne last year, got off to a smooth start, defeating Salvatore Caruso 6-0 6-2 6-3.

 

RAIN LEAVES MATCHES UNFINISHED

Inclement weather left a host of Monday's other first-round matches incomplete, with Reilly Opelka closing in on an upset against Fabio Fognini when play was suspended at 6-3 7-6 (7-3) 1-0.

Rising star Jannik Sinner has a 2-0 lead over Max Purcell with the third set level at 4-4, while Roberto Bautista Agut was a set up against Feliciano Lopez.

Milos Raonic is one game away from a first-round win, his match against Lorenzo Giustino all-but over with the Canadian 6-2 6-1 5-2 to the good.

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic started his title defence with a 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 2-6 6-1 victory over Jan-Lennard Struff on Monday. 

Djokovic survived a scare on Rod Laver Arena, but the 16-time grand slam champion eventually moved into the second round at Melbourne Park.

Eyeing a record-extending eighth Australian Open title, second seed Djokovic will face either Tatsuma Ito or Prajnesh Gunneswaran for a spot in the third round.

World number 37 Struff presented a tricky opening test for Djokovic, especially with Craig O'Shannessy - the Serbian star's former chief strategist - now in his corner. 

Struff, who had never beaten Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, was not overawed, displaying aggression from the baseline and net.

Despite blinking first as Djokovic broke for a 4-2 lead and consolidated for a 5-2 advantage, Struff was unperturbed and reeled off three consecutive games, despite saving a set point along the way, to level the match and then force a tie-break.

Djokovic, however, managed to hold off the tenacious German in a tense and taxing breaker, using a wide serve to close it out at the second time of asking.

Struff was clearly feeling the effects when he quickly fell 2-0 behind at the start of the second, and Djokovic never relinquished the advantage before he broke again for a two-sets-to-love lead.

It seemed routine for Djokovic but he suffered an uncharacteristic stumble in the third as Struff's chances of a huge upset returned.

The pair traded breaks before the Djokovic serve went AWOL, allowing Struff to move 4-2 up before Djokovic served two double faults at 2-5, 30-30 to hand Struff a lifeline.

Normality was swiftly resumed in the fourth, however, Djokovic breaking in the opening game and again for a 4-1 lead before closing it out on the Struff serve to seal his 900th Tour level win.

 

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN
Novak Djokovic [2] bt Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6 (7-5) 6-2 2-6 6-1

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 44/28
Struff – 39/34

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 14/3
Struff – 13/7

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 64%
Struff – 80%

FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE
Djokovic – 65
Struff – 56

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE
Djokovic – 77/50
Struff – 65/41

TOTAL POINTS
Djokovic – 113
Struff – 91

Roger Federer hopes to set up his Australian Open campaign in the first three rounds after making an impressive start on Monday.

Despite not playing a lead-up tournament, the Swiss great looked in fine form in a 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory over Steve Johnson on Rod Laver Arena.

Federer, a 20-time grand slam champion, said the early rounds would be key after opting against competitive matches ahead of the year's first major.

"I just haven't played proper matches in many, many weeks, and a lot of guys, probably 95 per cent of the guys, are coming here with matches. I'm not one of those guys," he told a news conference.

"Now I have one. Best of five, too, which is even better. I think for me really the first three rounds are key to get going, to get used to the pressure, stay calm, when to save break point or 30-30 points or whatever it may be or just to stay calm if you're down a set and a break or whatever it might be.

"This is sort of the unknown that can be a little bit scary at times. But today there was none of that because I broke early each set and was able to get on a roll, play freely after that. And also felt I had margin.

"Anything I was doing I felt like I had the game under control. That might not be the case in the next round, so I just think I have to be careful.

"Round by round, point for point mentality. I know other guys that are playing extremely well right now so I think it's just important to stay very calm about things right now."

Federer produced a polished display against Johnson, hitting 34 winners and 20 unforced errors.

And, asked about the court speed, Federer said it was similar to last year at Melbourne Park.

"I think balls play fast when they are new, a ball change for a couple of games, depending on who you play, how long the rallies are right then," he said.

"But I'd say two to four games it can play faster. But the balls fluff up extremely quickly here when you do get into long rallies. And I feel night sessions or indoor or on a cool day like what we will see in the next week, actually play quite slow. It is what it is, you know.

"But I think it depends on how you play maybe also and how you manage your game and what kind of opponent you have, for all sort of playing styles, I guess."

Roger Federer produced a polished display in a first-round thrashing of Steve Johnson at the Australian Open on Monday.

The Swiss great opted against playing a lead-up tournament, but showed no signs of rustiness in a 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory over Johnson at Rod Laver Arena.

Federer, a 20-time grand slam champion, was in control throughout, with not even a first-set rain delay able to halt a strong performance.

A six-time winner in Melbourne, Federer had won his previous two meetings with Johnson in straight sets, and he made it three in a row.

Federer took early control against Johnson, racing out to a 3-0 lead before rain delayed play after the fifth game.

But, the brief pause did little to slow Federer, especially under the Rod Laver Arena roof.

He took the first set and grabbed a 4-0 lead in the second, another break to begin the third seeing him on his way to a convincing victory.

Federer will face either Filip Krajinovic or qualifier Quentin Halys in the second round.

Rafael Nadal's bid to join Roger Federer on 20 grand slam titles begins against Hugo Dellien at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

Spanish star Nadal won two majors last year, taking his tally to 19 after clinching the US Open crown.

But despite making four finals since 2012, Nadal has failed to add to his one crown in Melbourne, where he was successful in 2009.

We take a closer look at where the 33-year-old is at as he prepares to begin his Australian Open campaign.

 

Form and results

Nadal prepared for the year's first grand slam by playing at the ATP Cup, where he appeared in decent form. He posted wins over Pablo Cuevas, Nikoloz Basilashvili, Yoshihito Nishioka and Alex de Minaur, but was also beaten twice, going down to David Goffin and Novak Djokovic as Spain finished as runners-up.

First up

He will face Dellien for the first time when the duo meet in Melbourne. The Bolivian enjoyed a good 2019, although the majority of his success came on the Challenger Tour. Dellien held a 12-16 win-loss record at ATP Tour level, while he was destroyed 6-0 6-1 by Michael Mmoh in qualifying in Auckland to begin 2020. Nadal has lost just once in the first round at the Australian Open – in 2016 – but it is hard to see a repeat upset.

Draw

Nadal will face either Federico Delbonis or Joao Sousa if he gets past Dellien as expected. In the third round, fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta may await.

What he said

"It's true that I went through some tough situations during all my career, but I was able to always, with probably the positive attitude and with the right people around, that they were a key, I was able to find a way to keep going. It's something that's difficult to imagine for me because for my style of game, as a lot of people said my career should be little bit shorter. But here we are. Happy for that. Even for me is a big surprise to be where I am at my age. So happy for everything. Just enjoying the situation."

Novak Djokovic has already shown fine form this year ahead of facing Jan-Lennard Struff at the Australian Open on Monday.

A record seven-time champion in Melbourne, the Serbian will take some stopping once again at the year's first grand slam.

Djokovic was strong during the back end of last year, aside from his ATP Finals failure, and has started 2020 impressively.

We take a closer look at where the 16-time major champion is at ahead of his opener.

 

Form and results

Djokovic led Serbia to ATP Cup success to begin the year, and he did so in style. The 32-year-old recorded singles wins over Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev during that run, while also beating Denis Shapovalov, Gael Monfils, Kevin Anderson and Christian Garin. If anyone was doubting he would be hard to beat in Australia, those questions were quickly answered.

Awaiting him in the first round is Struff, who would appear one of the trickier tasks given the German is ranked 37th in the world. Struff enjoyed a strong 2019 that included reaching semi-finals in Auckland and Stuttgart and the last eight in Barcelona and Basel, while he stunned Alexander Zverev at Indian Wells. However, Djokovic has enjoyed two straight-sets wins over Struff in their previous two meetings, including a 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory at the French Open last year.

Draw

Djokovic should encounter few early problems. Wildcard Tatsuma Ito or lucky loser Prajnesh Gunneswaran await if he gets past Struff, while 30th seed Dan Evans could be his third-round opponent.

What he said

"Milestones are definitely a motivation, I think. At the same time they make me proud of what I have achieved in my career. They give even more significance to why I'm competing in professional tennis still. But at the same time, there's some other higher goals that I have kind of as a driving force I think more than any other milestone. But they all are important."

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic said a changing of the guard is "inevitable" as the next generation of tennis players close the gap on the "Big Three".

Djokovic (16), Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (19) have dominated the ATP Tour circuit, combining for 55 grand slam titles and numerous other trophies.

While Djokovic, Federer and Nadal continue to lead the way and set the standard despite their advancing years, the world number two knows the younger generation will soon have their day.

As seven-time Australian Open champion Djokovic prepares for Monday's opener against Jan-Lennard Struff in Melbourne, the Serb star told reporters: "They're coming closer and closer. It's obvious.

"[Daniil] Medvedev had a great fight with Rafa in the last Grand Slam in US Open of last season. [Stefanos] Tsitsipas played semis here last year. Dominic Thiem twice finals in French Open. They're very, very close. They're literally one set away. On a given day, in the very near future, I think that can happen. It's going to happen. It's inevitable.

"What they're missing? I don't think they are missing too much, to be honest. I think they possess very powerful games that require a lot of skills, and they have those skills. They have put in the hours and dedicated themselves on and off the court. I think a lot of those next generation players working very hard, being very professional. That's a good sign because that's one of the precursors.

"But at the same time to win a slam and also to kind of be consistently on the top level for many years, it takes I think a player to gain that mental and emotional maturity and experience to understand his own strengths, to kind of fight his own fears, to really be able to maintain that level for a long time. Rafa, Roger, and I, obviously because of the past 10,15 years, we know what we need to do mentally also in this particular situation. That gives us probably a little bit of an edge.

"Everything has to kind of intertwine and everything has to be, I guess, in balance. When I say 'everything' I mean mental, physical, emotional. Then of course you need to have luck on that day and for the stars to align to win a Grand Slam trophy. They're very close. I don't think that's miles, miles away maybe as it was some years ago. I think they are definitely hungry. They are challenging. They're knocking on the door."

Djokovic heads into his title defence on the back of a memorable but gruelling ATP Cup campaign in Australia as Serbia triumphed.

On his preparations, the second seed added: "I did not have such an intensive couple of weeks the year before the Australian Open for many years. I did have participation in Doha tournament, Hopman Cup before, everything.

"It was a lot of physical and emotional energy being spent in the ATP Cup… We as a team won the title, which was definitely one of the highlights of my career. It was phenomenal couple of weeks and great lead up to Australian Open. But it did take a lot out of me. I did adjust my training sessions towards that, so I had a little bit more of recuperation rather than just stepping on accelerator a little bit more."

The 108th edition of the Australian Open begins on Monday as the world's best tennis players battle it out at the first grand slam of 2020.

Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka will return to defend the titles they won last year, adding to the event's storied history.

The pair will face stiff competition from stacked fields in the men's and women's draw as a host of players seek glory in Melbourne.

To whet your appetite for the forthcoming feast of tennis, here is a selection of the best Opta facts related to the Australian Open.

 

- The last three years have seen the 12 women's grand slam tournaments being won by 10 different players; only Simona Halep and Osaka have won twice in that span.

- Djokovic won his seventh Australian Open title in 2019, the most of any male player in the history of the tournament. He has won the event every time he has reached the semi-finals.

- Of the last 14 editions of the Australian Open, 12 have been won by either Djokovic (7) or Roger Federer (5) – Rafael Nadal (2009) and Stan Wawrinka (2014) are the only other winners in that period.

- Victoria Azarenka (2012, 2013), Serena Williams (2009, 2010) and Jennifer Capriati (2001, 2002) are the only women to have won successive titles at the Australian Open since 2000.

- Federer won his sixth Australian Open title in 2018, 14 years after his first win at the event; no player has won multiple Australian Open titles over a longer period in the Open Era. It is his last win in a grand slam tournament to date.

- Since 2005 only Williams (2010, 2015) and Azarenka (2013) have won the title at the Australian Open as the number one ranked player in the world.

- Williams has not won any of the last 11 grand slams, with her last victory coming at the Australian Open in 2017 when she was pregnant – this is the American's longest span without a major title.

- Petra Kvitova lost in the final of the Australian Open last year, the only time she went further than the quarter-finals in her last 19 grand slam appearances, since winning Wimbledon in 2014.

- Either Nadal or Andy Murray has been the runner-up in nine of the last 10 Australian Open men's finals, Murray losing five times and Nadal four. Marin Cilic in 2018 is the only other player to lose an Australian Open final in that span.

- The last time an Australian made it to the men's final at the Australian Open was Lleyton Hewitt in 2005 and the last Australian to win the title was Mark Edmondson in 1976 (against fellow Australian John Newcombe).

Roger Federer begins his Australian Open campaign on Monday against a man he is yet to drop a set against.

The Swiss 20-time grand slam champion decided against playing a lead-up tournament ahead of the year's first major, where he faces Steve Johnson.

Despite the lack of competitive matches, it would still take a monumental upset to send Federer packing in the opening round.

We take a closer look at where the six-time champion in Melbourne is at ahead of the first round.

 

Form and results

Federer has been out of competitive action since the ATP Finals in November, when he suffered a semi-final loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas. The 38-year-old did edge Nick Kyrgios 7-6 (8-6) in an exhibition set at the 'Rally for Relief' event on Wednesday.

First up

In contrast, his first-round opponent, Johnson, is coming off a Challenger Tour title win in Bendigo. A former world number 21, the American almost dropped out of the top 100 last year, but already has seven wins at Challenger level in 2020. Federer holds a 2-0 head-to-head record over Johnson, but was pushed to two tie-break sets in their last meeting at Indian Wells in 2017. Federer's last first-round loss at a major was at the 2003 French Open, while he is 20-0 in the Australian Open first round.

Draw

Federer is in the bottom half of the draw and will face either Filip Krajinovic or qualifier Quentin Halys if he gets past Johnson. If results go by ranking, Hubert Hurkacz will await in the third round.

What he said

"I'm excited to play Steve. He's a good guy. I think with his old-school playing – big forehand, slice backhand, good serve – I think it's going to be a nice match for me, as well."

Denis Shapovalov would not play in the Australian Open if he felt conditions were unsafe amid continued concern over the air quality in Melbourne.

Bushfires that have ravaged Australia in recent weeks led to a smoky haze drifting over Victoria, having a significant impact on qualifying for the first grand slam of 2020.

Dalila Jakupovic had to retire from her qualifying match in distressing scenes after suffering a coughing fit during the second set against Stefanie Voegele.

Tennis Australia has since published its air quality policy, which states play will be suspended if the concentration of P2.5 particles, which can impair lung function, exceeds 200 micrograms per cubic metre.

The policy indicates there will be a discussion between medical staff and officials about whether it is advisable to play when the score is between 97 and 200.

Speaking ahead of the tournament, where he will face Marton Fucsovics in the first round on Monday, Shapovalov was asked what he would do if he believed conditions to be unsafe.

"I wouldn't play," he replied. "Obviously it's a grand slam, it's a big opportunity, but I'm 20 years old.

"I don't want to risk my life, risk my health being out there in these conditions when I can play for the next 10, 15 years.

"For my own health, if it gets bad, I just don't see what the point is. I think everyone's kind of on the same page. I don't think I've seen anyone happy with the way things are being dealt with."

On the air quality policy, he added: "They send some email and say they have professionals looking at it and they use the term 'playable'.

"For me it's just like, it's not great. You get warnings from the news telling people to stay inside, that it's not good to be outside, breathing this stuff in.

"And then you get an email from the tournament saying it's playable and you guys have to go out there and put your life in jeopardy, put your health in jeopardy.

"You see the effects on players it has right now, the last couple of days, but also you don't know what it's going to do later in our lives and how it could affect us if we're breathing this air in for two weeks."

 

Andrey Rublev became the first man since 2004 to start an ATP season with successive titles thanks to a routine victory over Lloyd Harris in the Adelaide International final.

Having won the Qatar Open last week, Rublev maintained his stunning start to 2020 in South Australia and Harris, playing in his first Tour-level final, was no match for the Russian. 

Rublev had come through three-setters with Dan Evans and Felix Auger Aliassime en route to the final, the latter contest lasting just shy of three hours.

No such epic was needed for Rublev in the tournament showpiece, however, as he moved to 8-0 for the season with a 6-3 6-0 win.

He is now unbeaten in 12 matches and will rise to a career-high ranking of 16 ahead of the Australian Open.

The statistics tell the story for Rublev, who has proved almost impossible for his opponents to break down this week.

Rublev saved 20 of the 23 break points he faced in Adelaide, including all four Harris brought up in the final.

The South African failed to convert a break point in the fifth game and was immediately punished as Rublev capitalised on a poor service game from Harris.

Harris then had three break-back points in the subsequent game but still allowed Rublev to hold and from there it was a procession. 

A hold for Harris at least forced Rublev to serve out the first, but he did so with little difficulty as he rattled off seven successive games to replicate Dominik Hrbaty's achievement of 16 years ago by clinching back-to-back titles.

The Australian Open should be delayed or postponed if air quality deteriorates and smoke blankets Melbourne, according to Dr Matthew Conron. 

Australia has been ravaged by bushfires in recent months, triggering poor air conditions and concerns among players for their welfare ahead of the year's first grand slam.

Australian Open organisers have come under fire after allowing qualifiers to take place on Tuesday, despite a thick haze of smoke, forcing Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic to retire, while Eugenie Bouchard, Bernard Tomic and Maria Sharapova also struggled.

The main draw gets underway on Monday and all eyes are on the Victorian capital with conditions continuing to fluctuate.

Asked if the slam should go ahead, Conron - Associate Professor and Director of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne - told Omnisport: "From a respiratory physician's point of view, if you had air quality of the type we have seen previously, I'd think the recommendation would be to delay or postpone the tournament until the weather cleared.

"I wouldn't think there'd be risk of long-term damage to your lungs. However, there's certainly a risk of precipitating an asthma attack. For those who have known asthma in particular, they'd be at a significant disadvantage to whose who haven't."

Conron, who helped prepare athletes for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing amid concerns over poor air quality in China, added: "Everyone would be at increased risk of developing respiratory symptoms.

"A lot would get sore throats, a bad and irritating cough and a smaller number would probably get asthma-type symptoms, particularly if they're not adequately controlled.

"If I was to provide advice to players and those wanting to do exercise in those conditions, if possible don't."

Tuesday's conditions were in the "very poor" range. For such weather, the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) recommends avoiding being outside and reducing prolonged or heavy physical activity. In some areas of Melbourne and Victoria, conditions were "hazardous". In those conditions, people are urged to close their windows and doors, while keeping physical activity levels as low as possible.

Conron added: "There's athletes who don't know they have asthma or might only have mild asthma and they're not on treatment. For that group of people, there's also the risk of increased symptoms associated with exposure to poor air quality. They might perform worse than they normally perform.

"The other thing is, tennis players are under the WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] code. So you can't just treat them with steroids or high doses of inhalers without an adequate diagnosis, because they run the risk of being tested and face a ban.

"At the Australian Open, they would've had to notify WADA they are on medication. For example, if there's someone who doesn't know they have asthma and have an attack - you're allowed to take 16 puffs of Ventolin a day, which doesn't get you over the threshold. Not all inhalers are approved."

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki - who has degrees in physics and maths, biomedical engineering, medicine and surgery - also provided an insight into the conditions that have left tennis players concerned.

"I'd tell them not to do it [play]. The right thing to do would be to cancel the tournament," Kruszelnicki told Omnisport. 

"Sitting at rest, we breathe in maybe five litres of air every minute. But if we're exercising hard, we can get up to 50-70L. So you have these athletes on the court and they're shifting huge amounts of air in their lungs and they're getting acute affects from it. The air is not safe to breathe.

"Our immune system is made stronger by the moderate amount of exercise we do. But when you get to the top-grade athletes, their immune systems go to lunch and they're really fragile.

"These athletes at the tennis and Olympic Games, they're scared of people coming in with influenza. They are pushing their bodies way beyond what's actually healthy, but they want to win a tournament. In terms of the effect of the air pollution on them, they're more at risk than a less highly trained person, because their immune system has been knocked out of whack. 

"They have pushed themselves so hard but they have compromised their immune systems. So they're taking more pollutants in, but their bodies are more fragile. You think they have big muscles and can run around. In that regard they can, but almost certainly, they'd be more fragile. The technical term is an insult - an infection or pollution."

Daniil Medvedev accepts the 'Big Three' will be hard to stop at the Australian Open, but said he was gaining confidence from facing the all-time greats.

After a superb 2019 that included a run to the US Open final, Medvedev is considered one of the contenders in Melbourne, where the year's first grand slam starts on Monday.

But 14 of the past 16 Australian Opens have been won by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, and the trio are again the favourites.

Medvedev, the fourth seed who will face Frances Tiafoe in a tricky opener, said regularly facing the greats gave him confidence.

"I think playing against them from time to time, especially the further you go in the big tournaments, the more chances you have to play them," he told a news conference on Saturday.

"The more times you play them, the more you know where you are comparing to them. For example, match in ATP Cup, Novak was kind of all over me. I managed to get back, almost win the match. I mean, he still won it. They won the whole ATP Cup. But I felt I was really close.

"Matches like this give you confidence to see that you're able to do it, but it's really tough."

Medvedev's run to the final at Flushing Meadows was the first time he had been beyond the fourth round of a grand slam.

The Russian, 23, said he was eyeing at least the quarter-finals in Melbourne this year.

"It's always tough to answer. Good Australian Open is to win it, but if you ask me what I'm going to be happy about, it always depends of course who you play, who you lose to," Medvedev said.

"But I would say I will be happy with quarters. As I always say, for me the first goal is to win it step by step.

"If I'm in quarters, I'm not going to be there and say, 'Okay, I've done my goal, it's enough for this tournament.'

"Any tournament I play, I want to win it. But quarters will be satisfying, I would say."

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