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."

"By the end of that match, Rafa's mind was scrambled eggs."

Craig O'Shannessy was part of Dustin Brown's coaching team when the German qualifier sensationally eliminated two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal at the All England Club in 2015.

Through numbers, patterns and data, Australian pioneer O'Shannessy orchestrated the gameplan to send Nadal packing in the second round almost five years ago.

"After the match, I described that as organised chaos," O'Shannessy told Omnisport. "A lot of times with Dustin it's pure chaos. Sometimes he wins with it, sometimes he loses. What gelled was we organised his chaos so that people didn't know him, would've looked at that thinking all hell is breaking loose. Whereas I'm watching the match going 'he is running the patterns that we talked about perfectly'.

"It's about taking away what Rafa wanted to do. It's about attacking him early on the point, it's about attacking him wide of the forehand, going after returns simply because you know where the serve is going, about drop shots and bringing him in. It's just about messing with his mind and making it very unclear."

O'Shannessy – recognised as a world leader in teaching and analysis – has continued to transform the sport. He teamed up with Novak Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017 and helped the Serb rise back to the top with four grand slams in three years.

Now working with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, O'Shannessy crunches the numbers for his players.

"Every single match the player receives a pre-match report that has text, specific details about what the players like to do, I'll put in a bunch of numbers, tables and graphs particularly on serve patterns and rally length, then video," he said. "You just keep hammering away and supporting the winning strategy in as many different ways as you can."

At the forefront of analytics in tennis, how further can data go?

"Still a long away. We're only scratching the surface," O'Shannessy said. "There's a lot of numbers and data that we see but still don't know exactly what it means. The next five years will be incredibly important and we'll know way more than we do now. We're just at the start of the journey."

On data and patterns, O'Shannessy added: "For example, when you're returning, you can't cover everything. Players that try to cover everything, basically end up covering nothing. You look at it by the point score, if a player is at 30-30, they really need the point. If they're at 40-15, they don't necessarily need the point.

"So the players will have the tendency to gravitate to certain locations when they need that point and if you're sitting there waiting for it, all of a sudden the advantage of that point gets completely turned around. Instead of the returner being unbalanced, the server is off balance because the return is coming back harder and faster. They're on defence instead of offence.

"Early in my coaching career, I naturally put a big emphasis on the opponent, the idea being you're going to play 50 matches in a year and you may only play two or three where you think you've played incredible. The other 47 it's going to be your B or C game that triumphs, so the more you can understand it's not about you playing phenomenal tennis, it's about making them play bad. That mentality takes the pressure off and delivers it to the other side of the court."

Then there is artificial intelligence. Stats Perform, of which Omnisport is a part of, harnesses the true power of sports data by leveraging advancements in AI to generate the industry's richest insights, though it is relatively untapped in tennis.

"AI is able to crunch some very big data and make sense of it," O'Shannessy added. "The ability to do forecasting through there about percentages and situations. I'm already looking at the best way to incorporate AI and the end result to basically help players win more matches."

Venus Williams' clash with Coco Gauff headlines the Australian Open first round, but former champion Stan Wawrinka also faces an early test in Melbourne.

Williams and Gauff will meet for the second time in what is a blockbuster opening-round encounter.

But there are several intriguing clashes in the first round at the year's first grand slam and we take a look at six of the best.

 

Damir Dzumhur v Stan Wawrinka [15]

Wawrinka would have preferred a friendlier draw than a man he has lost to in two of their three meetings. The Swiss 2014 champion was resurgent last year, while Dzumhur has been unable to replicate the form of his breakout season in 2017. Still, the Bosnian beat Wawrinka in three sets on clay in Geneva last year so the three-time grand slam champion will have to be near his best.

Daniil Medvedev [4] v Frances Tiafoe

Tiafoe thrilled during a run to the quarter-finals in Melbourne last year, but that would prove to be the high point of his 2019. The American has made a slow start to 2020 with first-round losses in Doha and Auckland, but was competitive against Medvedev in a 6-2 7-5 loss in Washington last year. After a spectacular 2019 that included reaching the US Open final, Medvedev shapes as the most likely to stop the 'Big Three', although he will need to get through a somewhat tricky opener first.

Sam Querrey v Borna Coric [25]

While he has dropped off since 2017, Querrey will fancy his chances against Coric after the Croatian's difficult finish to last year. Coric finished 2019 with six straight losses and suffered two more at the ATP Cup, to go with a win over Dominic Thiem. After four consecutive first-round exits in Melbourne, Coric reached the fourth round last year, while Querrey has never been beyond the third round in Melbourne. Coric won their only previous meeting at the French Open in 2015.

Venus Williams v Coco Gauff

Arguably the pick of any first-round match, the 39-year-old Williams meets the 15-year-old Gauff once more. Gauff stunned Williams 6-4 6-4 at Wimbledon last year and her ranking then (313) compared to now (66) tells the story of how she finished 2019 as the teenager followed it up with a title win in Linz. Williams withdrew from Brisbane due to injury, making this a hugely tough task for the seven-time grand slam singles champion.

Kristina Mladenovic v Karolina Pliskova [2]

Pliskova has enjoyed Melbourne in recent years, reaching at least the quarter-finals in each of the past three, but was handed a tough start in 2020. The Czech is coming off a title win in Brisbane and that will give her much-needed confidence ahead of facing former world number 10 Mladenovic. The pair have split their previous four meetings, with Mladenovic winning the last of those in 2017.

Donna Vekic [19] v Maria Sharapova

A wildcard, Sharapova was always going to be the danger in the draw – and she landed alongside 19th seed Vekic. Vekic enjoyed a fine 2019 to rise into the world's top 20, while Sharapova battled injuries and has fallen to 145th in the rankings. Vekic should be the favourite to advance, but if five-time major winner Sharapova can find some form, the Russian is always a threat and last bowed out in the opening round in Melbourne in 2010.

Andy Murray has further delayed his return from a pelvic injury, opting to skip tournaments in Montpellier and Rotterdam next month.

The three-time grand slam champion withdrew from the Australian Open after suffering the injury during last year's Davis Cup Finals.

Murray, 32, was expected to play at the Open Sud de France and Rotterdam Open next month, but announced on Thursday he would not be ready to return.

"The bone bruising is taking longer to heal than first thought," former world number one Murray told UK media.

"So I won't be playing in Montpellier or Rotterdam in February.

"I don't want to rush anything or put a timeline on my recovery, I'm going to listen to my body and step back on the court to compete when the time is right."

After a hip injury threatened to end his career, Murray returned in the second half of last year and won the ATP Tour title in Antwerp in October.

 

Local hope Alex de Minaur withdrew from the Australian Open due to an abdominal injury.

De Minaur helped Australia into the ATP Cup semi-finals earlier this month, including pushing Rafael Nadal in the last-four loss to Spain.

But the 20-year-old will now miss the year's opening grand slam, where he reached the third round in 2019.

"Unfortunately Australian No.1 @alexdeminaur has withdrawn from #AusOpen 2020 with an abdominal injury," the tournament wrote on Twitter.

World number 21 De Minaur enjoyed a stellar 2019 with a 41-20 win-loss record and three titles.

Craig O'Shannessy knows Novak Djokovic better than most. He was the brains behind the 16-time grand slam champion's revival.

When O'Shannessy teamed up with Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017, there were doubts over the Serbian star and whether he was a spent force on the ATP Tour due to injuries and form.

Djokovic drifted to 22nd in the world rankings during the 2018 season after ending the previous year without a slam crown – Australian Open (second round), French Open (quarter-finals), Wimbledon (quarter-finals) and US Open (absent due to injury).

However, highly regarded Australian strategy analyst and data pioneer O'Shannessy masterminded Djokovic's rise back to the top with three consecutive major championships thanks to a specific gameplan and emphasis on numbers and patterns.

Djokovic won four slams in total with O'Shannessy – the Australian Open (2019), Wimbledon (2018, 2019) and US Open (2018) – before the pair went their separate ways at the end of the 2019 season.

Providing an insight into Djokovic ahead of his quest for a record-extending eighth Australian Open crown in Melbourne, O'Shannessy, who provides players with reports and videos focusing on serving patterns and rally lengths before every match, told Omnisport: "He was really fantastic.

"He was also really receptive, really inquisitive, he is a sponge. There were so many times that I'd give him data and he was locked on to it. He always looked at it as much as possible. He had a real thirst for all the analytics I'd provide him. My job was to make things simple. He is a very smart guy. I think the record and success he had, a big part of that was going onto the court and having the confidence in the gameplan."

O'Shannessy, who now works with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, said: "We met in 2016 and I just showed them the work I could do, which was a lot of video work, analysis of matches, reports that led to video and it was something they weren’t doing at all in their team. We started at the beginning of 2017 and did it for three years, which in tennis years is a substantial amount of time, and it was very successful.

"Early on, I asked him how I could best be an asset for him. I had showed him everything I could do and the big thing was he wanted to see video. He hadn't seen a lot of video from his matches and what he did well. The big thing early on was the confirmation that certain ways and patterns that he gravitates naturally to on the court and didn't know whether they were really the best options.

"A lot of it early on was to show video of his best patterns of play, what worked the most, why he was winning, provide gameplans for every single match over the three years for the opponent, so he never went in blind. We always had a gameplan and knew the tendencies of opponents. Really double down at the big events and against his big rivals, to ensure no stone was left unturned."

At the age of 32, Djokovic – regarded as one of the all-time greats – trails Roger Federer's slam record (20) but can specific training with the use of analytics help prolong his career in pursuit of history?

"Novak is the kind of player that when he's practising, likes to feel the ball, likes to have rhythm, likes to have a large volume of hitting," O'Shannessy added. "But at the same time, there's one element being 'I need to feel good about my game but I also need to spend time working on the patterns that I know will be the most conducive to me winning matches'.

"Being smarter, a lot of the data does direct itself to being smarter on the practice court and not just grinding away, but running patterns of play and serving to a location to receive a ball, then to go to another specific location. For sure that knowing while you win matches and knowing that it's much more in the shorter rallies than the longer rallies, then you go to the practice court and develop those patterns."

Liam Broady hit out at the ATP and Australian Open for sending an email which he described as a "slap in the face" regarding conditions in Melbourne.

Qualifying has been impacted at the year's first grand slam due to poor air quality, with organisers facing criticism for letting play go ahead despite the conditions.

Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic retired during her match due to breathing difficulties, with the air quality in Melbourne in the 'very poor' range on Tuesday as smoke from bushfires in Australia cause havoc.

Broady, who was beaten in qualifying on the same day, hit out at organisers amid concerns over player welfare.

"The more I think about the conditions we played in a few days ago the more it boils my blood. We can't let this slide," the Brit wrote in a message posted on Twitter.

"The email we received yesterday from the ATP and AO was a slap in the face, conditions were 'playable'. Were they 'healthy'? Citizens of Melbourne were warned to keep their animals indoors the day I played qualifying, and yet we were expected to go outside for high intensity physical competition?

"What do we have to do to create a players union? Where is the protection for players, both male and female? When multiple players need asthma spray on court and they don't even have asthma? When a player collapses and has to retire due to respiratory issues?

"On tour we let so many things go that aren't right but at some point we have to make a stand. ALL players need protection not just a select few."

Conditions in Melbourne improved on Wednesday, although 'moderate to poor' air quality was forecast for Thursday.

Fabio Fognini and Karen Khachanov, the first and third seeds, crashed out of the Auckland Open in their opening matches on Wednesday.

World number 12 Fognini was facing Feliciano Lopez, the oldest player in the draw at 38 who had already won a match earlier in the day as the tournament schedule caught up following weather delays.

Lopez beat Pablo Andujar in three close sets before coming from behind to prevail against Italian Fognini, winning 3-6 6-4 6-3 in just under two hours.

"The first match was tough for me, but I think it was very helpful because it was my first singles match of the season," said Lopez after his day of double duty.

"Without that match, I don't think I would have played the way I did against Fabio."

Australian John Millman recovered from a set down to oust Russian Khachanov 4-6 6-3 6-3.

Denis Shapovalov is the highest seed left in the draw, having defeated fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil 6-4 7-6 (7-2).

Defending champion Tennys Sandgren is out after another former winner of the event, John Isner, triumphed 7-6 (7-3) 6-7 (1-7) 6-3 in an all-American round-of-16 encounter.

Seeds Benoit Paire and Hubert Hurkacz made it to the quarter-finals, as did Kyle Edmund and Ugo Humbert, who will now play Shapovalov.

At the Adelaide International, Felix Auger-Aliassime won his first match against wildcard James Duckworth, a 6-3 7-6 (7-0) win sending the second seed into the last eight.

Auger-Aliassime said: "Now I'm at a point where I was top 20 in the world. I reached three finals. Now every tournament I play, I play to win. I come, I want to reach the final. I want to give myself a chance to win titles."

Qatar Open champion Andrey Rublev continued his momentum with a 6-3 6-3 win over Sam Querrey and fourth seed Pablo Carreno Busta also progressed in straight sets.

There was a shock, though, as seventh seed Jan-Lennard Struff was beaten 6-3 6-4 by wildcard Alex Bolt.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas joined Bolt in the quarter-finals, as did qualifiers Lloyd Harris and Tommy Paul.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have made a joint donation of 250,000 Australian dollars to the bushfire relief fund.

World number one Nadal announced the decision while taking part in the star-studded Rally4Relief event, which also included the likes of Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.

"Talking with Roger we decided to give 250,000 Australian dollars to the fire relief together," Nadal said when he was addressing the crowd.

"Hopefully that keeps inspiring the people to support this terrible disaster we are going through and helps to recover all the things that we need."

Players have announced a range of ways to support the bushfire relief efforts ever since Nick Kyrgios declared he would pay $200 for every ace he hits during the Australian summer, as well as calling on Tennis Australia to organise Wednesday's event.

Nadal, Federer and the other players involved took part in a series of matches and challenges while wearing a microphone to entertain the Melbourne crowd.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Naomi Osaka, Caroline Wozniacki, Coco Gauff and Petra Kvitova all took part.

Williams donated all of her Auckland Open winner's earnings and each of the dresses she had worn during the tournament after her victory in New Zealand last week, while Djokovic has also made a contribution.

The event came after Australian Open organisers imposed a two-hour delay on the start of qualifying matches due to the "very poor" air quality.

Bushfires across Australia have resulted in the deaths of at least 28 people, while an estimated 10 million hectares of land has been burned since July 1.

The Rally4Relief helped the overall fund reach just under $5million

Federer said: "Incredible number, so much needed, hope it keeps going. The Australian Open is only just around the corner now and hopefully much more money will come together. This was definitely an incredible kick off.

"This country all comes together for other people and that is a true inspiration for other countries around the world who are watching this now."

Australian Open organisers imposed a two-hour delay on the start of qualifying matches on Wednesday due to the "very poor" air quality from the ongoing bushfires in the country.

Hazardous conditions put back the first qualifying matches on Tuesday, with Dalila Jakupovic falling to her knees and experiencing breathing difficulties that forced the Slovenian to retire from her meeting with Stefanie Voegele.

Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria said the "very poor" conditions were forecast to improve with the chance of a storm.

Play was consequently set to begin at 13:00 local time (02:00 GMT).

"Practice has been suspended until 11am this morning due to air quality concerns, and play won’t start before 1pm," read a statement from Tennis Australia. 

"Conditions at Melbourne Park are being constantly monitored and further decisions will be made using the onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria. 

"The on-site data and measurements early this morning were similar to yesterday, when practice and play were suspended and delayed. Conditions yesterday were forecast to improve throughout the day, which is what occurred. 

"Play and practice at tournaments in Traralgon and Bendigo, along with a junior event at Royal Park in Melbourne have also been suspended."

Bushfires across Australia have resulted in the deaths of at least 28 people, while an estimated 10 million hectares of land has been burned since July 1.

Robert Farah, the world's number one ranked male doubles player, tested positive for a banned substance in October.

A winner of Wimbledon and the US Open alongside Colombian compatriot Juan Sebastian Cabal in 2019, Farah and the ITF confirmed the positive out-of-competition test on Tuesday.

Farah had already pulled out of the Australian Open, citing "personal reasons".

"The Tennis Anti-Doping Programme can confirm that Robert Farah provided an Out-of-Competition sample on 17 October 2019, which returned a positive finding for Boldenone," a tweet from the ITF's media account read. 

"This case will follow the procedures set out in Article 8 of the TADP."

Farah blamed the positive sample on contaminated meat. Boldenone is a steroid banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), but it is frequently used by Colombian farmers to boost growth in cows.

"I'm sure that's what generated the result from the test in question," Farah said in a statement released on his social media accounts.

"I'm going through one of the saddest moments of my life and, without a doubt, the saddest of my sporting career.

"With my team and a group of advisers we're looking into the steps to take in a process in which we hope to show that I've never used any products that violate fair play and ethics."

News of Farah's positive test comes after the ITF revealed Nicolas Jarry, the world number 78 in singles, failed a test at the Davis Cup in November, his sample containing traces of Ligandrol and Stanozolol.

Nicolas Jarry says there is "no doubt" he is innocent after the world number 78 was provisionally suspended for an anti-doping violation.

The International Tennis Federation on Tuesday announced the 24-year-old Chilean tested positive for non-specified substances Ligandrol metabolite and Stanozolol metabolite.

Jarry was charged as a result of a urine sample which was taken during the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid last November, but he denies any wrongdoing.

"Last November, while I was playing [in the] Davis Cup for Chile, I underwent two urine tests," Jarry posted on Instagram.

"The first one was clean but the second one detected two banned substances. The levels of these substances are so incredibly low that they are equivalent to trillionths of a gram, levels so low that neither substance could have provided me any performance-enhancing benefit.

"I would like to let you know that I have never deliberately or intentionally taken any banned substance in my career as a tennis player, in fact I am completely opposed to doping.

"Therefore, I dedicate these next days and weeks fully to determine where these substances came from so my legal team and I can clarify the situation completely.

"This has caught me and my loved ones by absolute surprise and what I would like to do beyond proving my innocence (no doubt about that) is to in future use what is happening to me as an example for all young athletes, so that cases like this never happen again.

"I say this because it strongly looks like a cross-contamination cause [from] the use of multi-vitamins made in Brazil, which my doctor recommended I take since they were guaranteed to be free from banned substances.

"My legal team and I will be working very strongly to prove my innocence and for this I have offered my full cooperation to the International Tennis Federation (ITF)."

Seventh seed Jan-Lennard Struff moved safely through to the last 16 of the Adelaide International, while Dan Evans reached the quarter-finals.

Struff was the only seed in action on Tuesday at the first edition of the tournament and he defeated lucky loser Salvatore Caruso 6-4 6-2.

Like Struff, Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas won his first-round match, as did qualifier Tommy Paul and wildcard Alex Bolt.

Evans, meanwhile, is the first man into the last eight after he saw off Alexander Bublik 7-5 6-2.

Inclement weather heavily affected proceedings at the Auckland Open, though there was still time for John Millman to reach the last 16 with a hard-fought 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 win over qualifier Michael Mmoh.

Millman will play Karen Khachanov in round two, with Vasek Pospisil – a winner over Joao Sousa – set to face rising star Denis Shapovalov in an all-Canadian encounter.

Kyle Edmund defeated wildcard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2 4-6 6-3 in a back-and-forth contest.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley insisted players would not be put in danger amid air quality concerns in Melbourne.

Play was delayed on the opening day of qualifying on Tuesday due to poor air quality caused by bushfires in Australia.

While organisers faced criticism for allowing play to begin, Tiley said players would not be put at risk.

"We reiterated with the players that we're making a decision based on advice, based on expert advice," he told a news conference.

"We're not going to put them in harm's way or make any decision that's going to negatively impact their health and wellbeing.

"We have a track record of that when it comes to extreme heat. I think we're one of the few major events that has to manage extreme heat like we do.

"But this is a new experience for all of us, how we manage air quality and therefore we've got to rely on those experts that advise us on how best to continue."

Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic retired during her qualifier against Stefanie Voegele when leading 6-4 5-6, with reports suggesting she was struggling with her breathing.

Australian Open qualifying was delayed on Tuesday due to poor air quality as smoke from bushfires in Australia impacted Melbourne.

Play was due to get underway at 10:00 local time (23:00 GMT), but thick smoke blanketed Melbourne, leading to it being pushed back by an hour.

Bushfires have ravaged Australia in recent months and there have been concerns over player and spectator welfare at the year's first grand slam, with the main draw beginning on Monday.

The poor air quality has already impacted the event, with the Australian Open announcing practice had also been suspended during the morning on Tuesday.

"Practice was temporarily suspended this morning due to poor air quality," a statement read.

"Qualifying matches will begin at 11am. Conditions onsite are improving and are being constantly monitored.

"Further decisions will be made using onsite data and in close consultation with our medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology and scientists from EPA Victoria.

"As always the health and safety of our players, our staff and our fans is our priority."

Air quality in Melbourne has been in the 'hazardous' and 'very poor' range since midnight local time (13:00 GMT) in readings provided by the Environment Protection Authority Victoria.

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