The tennis season has begun with Rafael Nadal, Ash Barty, Paula Badosa and Thanasi Kokkinakis among the champions at small-scale events in Australia.

Yet there has been one dominant story in the sport and little else has had a look-in in the lead-up to the Australian Open.

Now that Novak Djokovic knows his fate, there is the welcome prospect of eyes turning to matters on the tennis court, rather than the Federal Court.

With the action getting under way in Melbourne on Monday, Stats Perform looks at the main protagonists and what the numbers tell us about another high-stakes grand slam.

Djokovic absence blows open men's draw

As defending champion Djokovic heads for home, it is worth a reminder of how he has dominated this tournament.

Nine of his grand slam titles have come in Melbourne, and he has taken the trophy in each of the last three years, helping him cosy up alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 majors, an all-time record they share. Of the 'Big Three', only Nadal is in the draw this year, with Federer currently on the injured list.

Djokovic has the highest win percentage in the Open Era (since 1969) at the Australian Open, among players with 20 or more wins (91.1 per cent – W82 L8). He was hoping to join Nadal (13 French Opens) and Margaret Court (11 Australian Opens) in the exclusive club of players to reach double figures for singles titles at one slam.

The Serb was also aspiring to become the first man in the Open Era to win four consecutive Australian Opens. It happened once before the tour turned professional, with Roy Emerson winning five in a row from 1963 to 1967. Djokovic has left Melbourne with the title every time that he has made it through to the semi-finals.

 

So who takes the title now?

Only Bjorn Borg (89.2 per cent) has a higher winning percentage in grand slam matches than Nadal (87.7 per cent) and Djokovic (87.5 per cent) in the Open Era, among players with 100 or more wins. So why not Nadal?

The 35-year-old and Djokovic have carved up 12 of the last 14 grand slam titles, Nadal winning four of those (three French Opens, one US Open). He is battling back from a foot injury lay-off and coronavirus, and might need to get the early rounds out of the way without undue stress to stand a chance at the business end.

The two exceptions in the Nadal-Djokovic sequence of slam dominance have come at the US Open, with Dominic Thiem winning in New York in 2020 and Daniil Medvedev triumphing at Djokovic's expense in last year's Flushing Meadows final. Thiem is not in Australia, but world number two Medvedev is, looking to become the third Russian man to win two slams, after Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin.

The last man other than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to secure back-to-back slam singles title was Andre Agassi (US Open 1999 and Australian Open 2000), but that is Medvedev's objective now, and he has the game to pull it off.

Nadal has reached at least the quarter-final stage in 15 of his last 16 grand slam appearances, winning six of those majors (four French Opens and two US Opens), so he may well be a factor.

Who else is in the frame? Alexander Zverev probably, having reached the quarter-finals in Australia in the last two seasons (SF in 2020 and QF in 2021). He won the Olympic Games and ATP Finals titles last year, so a grand slam is an obvious next step. He might want to keep double faults in check though, having served a tour-high 113 in slams last season.

Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the Australian semi-finals in 2019 and 2021, so throw him into the mix too, and Matteo Berrettini might be a threat. The Italian, a runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon in July, served more aces than any other player in grand slams last year (311 aces, 16.4 on average per match).

 

Others have more modest ambitions

Andy Murray is back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2019, when he lost in the first round against Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets and was more or less given his last rites as a tennis pro after the match, having indicated he was close to retirement.

The five-time Australian Open runner-up last won a match in this tournament in 2017, when he reached round four. A tough opener against Nikoloz Basilashvili awaits.

Spanish 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez will make his 80th appearance in a grand slam and become the second man in the Open Era with 80 or more appearances at the four majors, after Federer (81).

Do not expect an Australian to be men's champion, by the way. The last time an Australian reached the men's singles final was 2005, when Lleyton Hewitt lost against Safin, and the last home champion was Mark Edmondson in 1976.

Barty backed in stacked women's draw

For the first time since 1997, neither Serena nor Venus Williams will take part in the Australian Open. Yet the women's tour is in rude health, even without those great bastions.

Ash Barty is world number one and a standout pick for many, only enhancing her claims after winning an Adelaide International title in the run-up to this fortnight.

But there is staggering depth on the women's side at present, and Barty will face stiff competition.

Incredibly, the last five grand slam finals have featured 10 different women, and teenager Emma Raducanu's against-all-odds US Open triumph in September shows best of all that new stars are emerging.

Yet since 2000, only three non-seeded players have reached the women's singles final at the Australian Open: Serena Williams in 2007, Justine Henin in 2010 and Garbine Muguruza in 2020. 

Barty could become the first Australian to be women's champion since Chris O'Neil in 1978, and the first to reach the final since Wendy Turnbull lost to Hana Mandlikova in 1980.

The Queenslander is the top seed, and the last time the number one failed to reach at least the fourth round at Melbourne Park was in 1979, when Virginia Ruzici lost her opening match. Barty ended a long wait for an Australian winner of the women's title at Wimbledon last year, so why not closer to home as well?

 

Naomi Osaka is back, so what should we expect?

Truth be told, that's hard to know. Osaka took time out from tennis after the US Open to focus on her mental health and enjoyed hanging out with friends, before deciding she missed tennis enough to go back on tour.

She had three wins at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament recently before withdrawing from a fourth match, saying her body had "got a shock" from the intensity. As defending champion in the season's first major, she has a target on her back and will need to find a way to handle that.

Over the past six seasons, only Osaka has managed to win back-to-back grand slam singles titles among the women, and she has done so twice (US Open 2018 and Australian Open 2019, plus US Open 2020 and Australian Open 2021).

The last player to win back-to-back women's Australian Open singles titles was Victoria Azarenka (2012 and 2013), so it does not happen regularly.

Osaka has an 85 per cent win rate at this tournament: since 2000, only Jennifer Capriati (90 per cent) and Serena Williams (89 per cent) have had a higher win percentage in the main draw.

 

You want challengers to the big two? Try sticking a pin in the draw

The Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, which goes to the champion, is a trophy that upwards of a dozen women will seriously believe they can win.

Aryna Sabalenka has reached the semi-finals of the last two slams but is mired in some kind of hellish serving groove, having made 74 double faults in her last four matches and lost the last three in a row.

Anett Kontaveit won a tour-high 39 matches on hard courts last year but has only been to one grand slam quarter-final – last year in Australia, losing to Simona Halep.

What about Ons Jabeur, who matched Kontaveit for a tour-high 48 wins across all surfaces last year? The Tunisian is queen of the drop shot, making 147 successful such plays on tour last year, more than any other player, and recently reached the top 10 in the WTA rankings for the first time.

Maria Sakkari reached two slam semi-finals last year, the first of her career, and the form of Barbora Krejcikova and Badosa in the past week in Melbourne marks them out as contenders. Both are recent fast-risers, Krejcikova already with a French Open title to show.

WTA Finals champion Muguruza could be the second Spaniard to twice reach the Melbourne title match, after Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1994 v Steffi Graf and 1995 v Mary Pierce). Spain has never had an Australian Open women's singles winner: former French Open and Wimbledon champ Muguruza is an authentic contender.

Halep was runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki in 2018, a semi-finalist in 2020 and quarter-finalist last year, and a Melbourne Summer Set title was a handy warm-up for the Romanian. Consider her, too.

Monica Seles, in 1991, was the last player to triumph on her debut in the main draw, but she was already a grand slam winner (1990 French Open). Given the strength of the line-up, the prospect of a bolter coming through this field is unlikely, even if the example of Raducanu tells us anything is possible.

Aslan Karatsev failed to read the script as he beat Andy Murray in straight sets to win the Sydney Classic on Saturday.

Three-time grand slam champion Murray had rolled back the years to reach his first ATP Tour championship match since beating Stan Wawrinka in Antwerp back in October 2019.

There was to be no 47th ATP Tour singles title for the Briton at Ken Rosewall Arena, though, as Karatsev won 6-3 6-3 to ensure he will start the Australian Open next week with a spring in his step.

The world number 20 from Russia was a surprise semi-finalist in the first grand slam of the year at Melbourne Park last year and looks capable of making his presence felt again.

Karatsev struck 27 winners to 13 from the racket of former world number one Murray, who was unable to break the Vladikavkaz native's serve.

Murray failed to hold in the first game of the final and the opening set was over when he was broken for a second time.

Karatsev surged into a 3-0 lead in the second set and fended off five break points before finally holding to take a 4-1 lead, then went on to serve it out as he secured a third ATP Tour singles title, having been triumphant in Moscow and Dubai last year.

Murray will take great heart from the strides he has made this week and three years after fearing he may be force to retire at the Australian Open, the 34-year-old will face Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round of the 2022 tournament next week.

Karatsev will do battle with Spaniard Jaume Munar for a place in the second round at Melbourne Park.

Andy Murray refused to add to Novak Djokovic's troubles after the Serbian star's visa saga reared up again, insisting he would not "start kicking Novak while he's down".

Some players have been critical of Djokovic, while world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas said the Serbian has been "playing by his own rules" after refusing to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus.

Djokovic faces a critical Federal Court hearing on Sunday that looks set to determine whether he can play at the Australian Open, which starts the following day.

Although the Serbian arrived in Australia with a medical exemption for the grand slam tournament, which he has won on a record nine occasions, that did not satisfy Border Force officers who last week decided Djokovic did not meet entry requirements.

After four days in detention, Djokovic won a first challenge against the visa decision on Monday and has been able to train at Melbourne Park in the days since; however, he will be returned to detention on Saturday morning in the Victoria state capital after immigration minister Alex Hawke cancelled the visa anew.

Murray said: "It's not a good situation. I'm not going to sit here and start kicking Novak while he's down. It's unfortunate it's ended up in this sort of situation.

"It's just one to get resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case. It seems like it's dragged on for quite a long time now.

"It's not great for tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak, and a lot of people have criticised the government here as well, so it's not been good.

Murray banged his head against a microphone in exasperation as he faced another question on the matter, clearly by now sick of being asked about Djokovic.

The Scot, a former world number one and long-time friend and rival to Djokovic, was asked about the latest developments after coming off court, having just booked his place in the final of an ATP Tour event for the first time since 2019.

Speaking after his semi-final win at the Sydney Classic, Murray said: "I would encourage people to get vaccinated.

"But I do feel like people should be able to make their own decisions. Ultimately, people have to make their own choices, but there is also consequences sometimes for those decisions as well."

Former doubles world number one Rennae Stubbs told Australian broadcaster ABC she expected the story to keep rumbling on.

"It's not over, he's staying in the country, but for the ramifications for the Australian Open, it's huge," Stubbs said.

"It's hard to know, obviously I'm not in his mind, but I would say he's going to be extremely disappointed, very sad, angry. I think he's probably going through all the emotions you can imagine as a human being."

Before the hearing on Sunday was confirmed, Stubbs said: "Unfortunately for Novak, it's not looking good."

Djokovic has been drawn to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round in a match that would be expected to take place on Monday or Tuesday.

Although the case of Djokovic has drawn global attention, Australian Stubbs said the single-minded nature of tennis players meant most were "really not concerned about Novak and his dilemmas".

"I think they're ready to get on with this tournament," she said. "I frankly think that most of them are sick and tired of talking about Novak and dealing with this situation in general."

Andy Murray will face the surprise package of last year's Australian Open in Saturday's final of the Sydney Classic.

Blocking Murray's way to a first ATP Tour title since October 2019 will be Russian player Aslan Karatsev, whose gritty win over Dan Evans prevented an all-British final.

Evans won a marathon tie-break in the second set of that encounter but could not maintain the level as he lost out 6-3 6-7 (13-15) 6-3 to a player who caused a sensation by reaching the 2021 Australian Open semi-finals.

It was also a case of digging deep for Murray, who picked up a stellar win over American Reilly Opelka, triumphing 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-4 against the fourth seed and world number 25. Murray is ranked down at number 135, but this strong week has provided evidence he still belongs at a much higher level.

Three years have passed since Murray came to Australia and indicated he was close to retirement due to hip trouble. He has battled back against the odds to stay active, but his lone ATP singles final appearance since that point came at the 2019 European Open in Antwerp, where he beat Stan Wawrinka to land a surprise title.

Now he is back in another title match, for what will be just his fourth singles final on the main tour since the end of the 2016 season, when he reached world number one status.

Murray rifled 16 aces and no double faults, winning an impressive 88 per cent of points when he landed his first ball in court, and his serve was not broken at any point by Opelka.

He has 46 singles titles and dearly wants to reach 50 before calling it a day, with a glorious chance to land a 47th coming up on Saturday.

Karatsev, the world number 20, is not a player that Murray would underestimate. He was ranked 114th and largely unknown before going on his run to the final four in Melbourne last February, but he has since pushed on and should provide a stiff test for three-time major winner Murray.

"It's already been a great week for me, big progress from anything I've done in the last year or so, to string four matches together like this and against top players in Basilashvili and Opelka," said Murray. "I'll go for 47 tomorrow. It's been a good week, I've played better with each match, so hopefully I'll step it up again."

At the Adelaide International 2 event, Australian wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis produced a stunning semi-final win over fourth seed Marin Cilic, battling to a 6-2 3-6 7-6 (12-10) victory over the former US Open champion, teeing up a shot at Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech in the title match.

Andy Murray powered through to his first ATP Tour final since October 2019 after a stellar win over Reilly Opelka at the Sydney Classic.

Murray won 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 6-4 against his American opponent, with fourth seed and world number 25 Opelka undone by the British wildcard.

Three years have passed since Murray came to Australia and indicated he was close to retirement due to hip trouble.

There have been highs and lows since then as the three-time grand slam winner has fought to resuscitate his career. His lone ATP final appearance since that point came at the 2019 European Open in Antwerp, where he beat Stan Wawrinka to land a surprise title.

Now he is back in another title match, for what will be just his fourth final on the main tour since the end of the 2016 season, when he reached world number one status.

Opelka is renowned as a big server and duly sent down 20 aces and four double faults, but Murray showed he can compete on that front too with 16 aces and no doubles.

The Scot also won an impressive 88 per cent of points when he landed his first ball in court, and his serve was not broken at any point.

Murray was awaiting the winner of the second semi-final between his fellow Briton Dan Evans and Russian Aslan Karatsev.

Five-time Australian Open runner-up Murray has been drawn to face Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round of the grand slam at Melbourne Park next week. He beat 23rd-ranked Basilashvili in round two in Sydney.

Andy Murray strode through to the semi-finals at the Sydney Classic after opponent David Goffin was forced to retire with an injury.

Murray won the opening set 6-2 before eighth seed Goffin, who had been receiving treatment on his knee, determined he could no longer continue.

It is the first time the 34-year-old Murray has reached a semi-final on the ATP Tour since winning the European Open title in October 2019.

Though not ideal circumstances, Murray will at least be glad of the extra rest after his three-hour encounter with world number 23 Nikoloz Basilashvili in the second round. The Scot has also been drawn to play Basilashvili in the first round of the Australian Open.

Murray will face Reilly Opelka in the last four in Sydney after the American beat compatriot Brandon Nakashima 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 to advance.

Top seed Aslan Karatsev was made to work for his win against Italy's Lorenzo Sonego but secured a 6-3 3-6 6-2 victory to book his semi-final place against Briton Dan Evans, who defeated American Maxime Cressy 6-4 7-6 (7-5). Cressy reached the final of the Melbourne Summer Set tournament last week.

At the Adelaide International 2 event, third seed Karen Khachanov tumbled out after losing in straight sets to Arthur Rinderknech, the Frenchman coming through a 7-6 (9-7) 7-5 winner.

Rinderknech will face compatriot Corentin Moutet in the semi-finals after the qualifier overcame Thiago Monteiro 6-4 6-4.

Fourth seed Marin Cilic battled to beat American Tommy Paul 6-4 2-6 6-3, and a test awaits against Thanasi Kokkinakis who defeated fellow Australian Aleksandar Vukic 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 6-2.

Andy Murray drew on his never-say-die attitude to beat Nikoloz Basilashvili in a late-night thriller and book a quarter-final berth at the Sydney Tennis Classic.

The former world number one lost the first set despite leading 4-1 and 5-2, and was pegged back again having broken for a 3-2 lead in the second.

But Murray is renowned for being a fighter on court and so it proved again as the three-time grand slam winner defeated his Georgian opponent 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 in a match that finished after midnight in Sydney.

It marked further joy for Murray against world number 23 Basilashvili, an opponent he defeated in four sets in the first round of Wimbledon last year.

Murray's fellow Briton Dan Evans continued a perfect start to 2022 as he breezed past Pedro Martinez 6-2 6-3 in 85 minutes without facing a break point.

Top seed Aslan Karatsev defeated Miomir Kecmanovic 7-5 6-4 for his first win of the year, while Reilly Opelka (4), Lorenzo Sonego (5) and David Goffin (8) – who is Murray's last-eight opponent - all coasted through in straight sets.

However, Fabio Fognini (7) was a seed who did fall, as he lost 7-6 (9-7) 7-6 (8-6) to American Brandon Nakashima.

At the Adelaide International 2 tournament, top seed Gael Monfils – who triumphed at last week's Adelaide event – withdrew with neck pain in the deciding set of his second-round tie against Thiago Monteiro.

John Isner (2) also bit the dust against wildcard and home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis with each set going to a tie-break.

Karen Khachanov (3) and Marin Cilic (4) safely made it through in straight sets against Gianluca Mager and Jaume Munar respectively, but Marton Fucsovics (8) was beaten 6-2 6-2 by Frenchman Corentin Moutet.

Tommy Paul, Arthur Rinderknech and Aleksandar Vukic all progressed.

Andy Murray says there are "questions that need to be answered" by Novak Djokovic before the world number one plays in the Australian Open.

Frustrated by the Djokovic saga becoming a distraction, Murray wants the world number one to tie up loose ends at the earliest opportunity, so the tennis world can move on.

There remain grey areas surrounding the Serbian's commitment to isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 on December 16 last year.

A maskless Djokovic was pictured at a Belgrade tennis club's awards event on December 17, and L'Equipe has reported he took part in a photo shoot and interview for the French sports newspaper on the following day. It remains to be established whether Djokovic knew by that stage that he had returned a positive test.

The coronavirus infection allowed Djokovic to qualify for a medical exemption to play at Melbourne Park, and the 20-time grand slam winner confirmed on arrival in Australia that he is unvaccinated, before his visa was initially revoked.

It is not known what his plans would have been for the Australian Open had he not tested positive, as players are required by Tennis Australia to be either vaccinated or have a compelling case for an exemption.

Djokovic was released from a four-day detention in a Melbourne hotel following a court hearing on Monday, and long-time friend and rival Murray said: "It's positive that he's not in detention anymore. He won in court, so that's a positive thing for him, and hopefully we'll be able to concentrate on the tennis now.

"I think there is still a few questions that need to be answered around the isolation and stuff, which I'm sure we'll hear from him in the next few days, but I'm obviously here to try and play and win tournaments."

Australia's immigration minister Alex Hawke could still cancel Djokovic's visa on new grounds, meaning his participation at the year's first grand slam, which begins next Monday, is not yet 100 per cent confirmed. The nine-time Australian Open champion will be seeking a record 21st men's grand slam singles title if cleared to play.

Murray, who won in the first round of the Sydney Classic on Tuesday, is conscious of the Djokovic saga dragging on.

It was clear the Briton believes an important step forward is for Djokovic to answer journalists' questions on the matter.

"It's the first match that I have played here, or won here, in over three years, and this is where the situations like this are frustrating for players," said Murray. "I want to come off and talk about my tennis and what's happening there, not talking about situations like that.

"So I'm hoping that we can move on from it now. He won in court, which is good. It looks like he's going to be able to play and compete in the Australian Open. We do want the best players there.

"But like I said, I think there is still a few questions to be answered. It's up to the press to ask about that and for Novak to clarify, so let's wait to see what he says."

Andy Murray swept through his opening test at the Sydney Classic as the wildcard grabbed his first win of the year.

Murray sped to a 6-3 6-1 victory over Norwegian Viktor Durasovic, a player ranked a lowly 345th by the ATP who won through two qualifying rounds to reach the main draw.

The Scot broke four times across the contest and won 25 of 26 points when landing a first serve, an encouraging rate. Realistically, anything other than a comfortable win for the former world number one would have been concerning ahead of the Australian Open.

Murray at least put last week's disappointing first-round loss to Facundo Bagnis at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament behind him, and now a stiff tests await him in the last-16 stage.

Georgian second seed Nikoloz Basilashvili is next for Murray on Wednesday, with the world number 23 a familiar foe after these two met in the first round at Wimbledon last July.

On that occasion, Murray won in four sets following a desperate wobble in the third, which he lost from 5-0 ahead.

Five times an Australian Open finalist, Murray believes limbering up this week in Sydney can set him up well for the season's first grand slam.

"It is perfect conditions here," Murray said. "It feels like you are playing indoors. It is really nice to get your range here, and hopefully I can carry that through to Melbourne.

"I was hoping to get matches in Melbourne last week, but that didn't happen. Thankfully the tournament organisers and Tennis Australia agreed to give me the wildcard and the opportunity to play here, and I am very grateful for that."

Tuesday also saw a win for Maxime Cressy, the American serve-volleyer who caused a stir with his run to last week's final in Melbourne before pushing eventual champion Rafael Nadal in the title match.

Cressy, who was born in Paris, is a throwback in an era dominated by baseliners, and his game again came good as he saw off Adrian Mannarino 6-3 7-5. Dusan Lajovic awaits him in round two after the Serbian beat Spain's Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6 (7-5) 6-4.

At the Adelaide International 2 tournament, South African fifth seed Lloyd Harris made a first-round exit, losing 5-7 7-5 6-4 to Soonwoo Kwon.

There was another positive performance from Adelaide's own Thanasi Kokkinakis, who swatted away Frenchman Benoit Paire 6-4 6-0 to tee up a second-round shot at American second seed John Isner.

Kokkinakis, a once-bright young prospect who is finding his way again on tour after injury trouble, reached the semi-finals of last week's Adelaide tournament and is eyeing another run in South Australia before heading to Melbourne.

"After a good run last week, I was pretty knackered – I'm not going to lie," Kokkinakis said, quoted in The Australian. "But I thought another one in my hometown was a perfect situation.

"It was kind of a win-win for me almost. If I won, perfect, I get more matches. If not, I get to Melbourne and get to prepare for Aussie Open, but I'm stoked with the win."

Andy Murray believes Novak Djokovic's situation ahead of the Australian Open does not reflect well on anyone involved, nor the game of tennis in general.

Djokovic is currently in immigration detention at the Park Hotel in Melbourne.

The world number one, who has not revealed his COVID-19 vaccination status, received a medical exemption to feature in the Australian Open, which begins on January 17. He is the reigning champion and has won the tournament nine times.

All competitors at Melbourne Park must either be vaccinated or have a valid medical reason not to have had the vaccine. Australia, and Melbourne in particular, has had strict restrictions in place throughout the pandemic.

However, Djokovic's visa application was rejected by Australian border force officials. The Serbian star will now await the outcome of a hearing, set to take place on Monday, to determine whether he will be allowed to compete or be deported, with the Australian government losing an appeal to delay the hearing.

Murray, a five-time Australian Open finalist, cannot see how the situation looks good for anybody.

"I think everyone is shocked by it to be honest," former world number one Murray, who is preparing himself for the season's first grand slam, told reporters, as quoted by Australian publication The Age.

"I'm going to say two things on it just now. The first thing is that I hope that Novak is OK. I know him well, and I've always had a good relationship with him and I hope that he's OK.

"The second thing I'll say on it, is it's really not good for tennis at all, and I don't think it's good for anyone involved."

 

Four of Murray's five defeats in Australian Open finals came to Djokovic, who the Scot has not had contact with.

"[I need to] wait and hear exactly what the situation is before commenting on it further, because again I don't think it's fair because some of it is speculation," Murray said.

"Some stuff has come out that really doesn't look good, either. I want to hear all the facts first before giving all of my thoughts on it."

Djokovic's lawyers, in their appeal document sent to the court, disclosed that the 34-year-old had tested positive for COVID-19 in December, and it was under these grounds that they sought a medical exemption.

Rafael Nadal said this week that Djokovic could have made life easier for himself by getting vaccinated, or disclosing his vaccine status, and Murray echoed those sentiments.

"It's not for [Nadal] to say what the right thing to do is, but to listen to the experts on those subjects, and I feel the same," Murray added.

"I can accept that young healthy athletes, if you contract coronavirus, are probably going to be OK. But I trust what I'm getting told by the scientists and the doctors.

"It's not about listening to what politicians or government are telling me to do, it's more listening to the doctors and the scientists, and the people that really know about that stuff."

Rafael Nadal was handed a walkover to the semi-finals of the Melbourne Summer Set tournament when his opponent withdrew with a foot injury.

In an ironic development, given Nadal has been so plagued by his own serious foot problems, Tallon Griekspoor had to pull out of his scheduled clash with the 20-time grand slam champion on Friday.

That was perhaps not the news Nadal wanted, given the Spaniard is competing this week to gain much-needed match practice ahead of the Australian Open. It is his first ATP Tour event since August, when a long-existing left foot problem caused him to curtail his season.

Withdrawing from a Rod Laver Arena tussle with Nadal was a painful blow to 25-year-old Dutchman Griekspoor too, and he wrote on Twitter: "These are the matches you play for."

It would have been a first career meeting with all-time great Nadal for the world number 65, who instead faces a fitness battle before the first grand slam of the year begins on January 17.

Nadal will go on to face Finland's Emil Ruusuvuori, who won 6-2 6-1 against Slovakian Alex Molcan. The other semi-final on Saturday will see Bulgarian third seed Grigor Dimitrov tackle American qualifier Maxime Cressy.

At the Adelaide International, the top three seeds sauntered through to the semi-finals. Top seed Gael Monfils brushed aside Tommy Paul 6-4 6-1, number two Karen Khachanov saw off Egor Gerasimov 7-5 6-3, and third seed Marin Cilic was a 6-3 6-2 winner over Laslo Djere.

It was also confirmed on Friday that former world number one Andy Murray has been awarded a wildcard into next week's Sydney Classic.

Murray suffered a first-round exit in Melbourne and is looking for a run of matches before launching his campaign at the Australian Open, where he is a five-time runner-up.

Andy Murray stumbled out of the Melbourne Summer Set tournament after a first-round defeat to Argentinian Facundo Bagnis.

In his opening ATP Tour match of the year, three-time grand slam winner Murray slipped up 6-3 5-7 6-3 against Bagnis, a player who began the year with a 30-59 win-loss career record.

Left-hander Bagnis rose to the occasion on Rod Laver Arena to earn the scalp of the former world number one.

Murray, down at 134th in the rankings after another injury-hit year, is looking to make headway on that front in 2022 under new coach Jan de Witt, so that he can avoid having to take wildcards into tournaments.

He was allowed into this tournament by that back-door route, and has also been confirmed for an Australian Open wildcard, but the Scot could not find the form that saw him beat Rafael Nadal at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi in late December.

Bagnis said of his win: "In the beginning it was a pleasure to play against Andy and right now to beat him is amazing. I'm really happy."

He added, according to the tournament website: "Yesterday, I came to see the stadium, to see it all around because the atmosphere is different when you play on any court outside… I enjoyed it a lot. It was so good for me."

Nadal was also back in action on Tuesday, playing his first match on the main tour since August as he teamed up with fellow Spaniard Jaume Munar for a doubles win.

A foot injury meant Nadal's 2021 season ended early, but he warmed up for singles tests that lie ahead by joining Munar for a 6-3 3-6 10-4 win over Argentinians Sebastian Baez and Tomas Martin Etcheverry.

At the Adelaide International 1 tournament, there was a notable first-round win on Tuesday for Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis, who saw off compatriot John Millman 6-4 6-3.

Kokkinakis, a major talent as a youngster, is battling to reassert himself on tour after injury troubles, and beating Millman put his name up in lights for at least one day.

He reflected afterwards on the battle it has taken so far, with last year spent largely living out of a suitcase on the second-tier Challenger Tour.

"It was a gruelling year travelling," said Kokkinakis. "I've played a couple of times [in Adelaide] but just in exhibitions, so to play a real meaningful tournament and beat such a quality opponent, a proven veteran like Johnny, means a lot. I played great, and the support was great, so I'm really happy."

Andy Murray will compete at the Australian Open for the first time in three years after being awarded a main-draw wildcard.

Murray has finished as a runner-up five times at Melbourne Park – most recently in 2016 when he was beaten by Novak Djokovic 6-1 7-5 7-6 (7-3).

The Scot has since struggled with a hip injury that had him on the verge of retirement, while he dropped to 134th in the world rankings.

However, the former world number one was in action at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi last week, where he defeated Rafael Nadal before eventually falling to Andrey Rublev in the final of the exhibition event.

Murray was due to feature at the Australian Open in 2020 before a positive coronavirus test stopped him from playing, but the 34-year-old is thankful for the chance to compete in Melbourne again.

"I'm really excited to be back playing at the Australian Open and grateful to Craig [Tiley] and the team for the opportunity," Murray said on his wildcard, as quoted by the tournament's website.

"I've had some great times in Australia playing in front of the amazing crowds and I can't wait to step back out on court at Melbourne Park."

Tournament director and Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley added: "Andy is renowned for his fighting spirit, passion and love of the game, and I'm delighted to welcome him back to Melbourne in January."

American Stefan Kozlov and Frenchman Lucas Pouille join Murray as the men's singles wildcards so far, with the other four spots likely to go to Australians and another to an Asia-Pacific player.

The Australian Open gets underway on January 17 with the final set to take place 13 days later.

Andrey Rublev became the first Russian to win the Mubadala World Tennis Championship by beating Andy Murray in straight sets on Saturday.

World number five Rublev secured a 6-4 7-6 (7-2) victory over the three-time grand slam champion in the final in Abu Dhabi.

Murray had beaten Rafael Nadal in the exhibition event, but was unable to end the year on a high note.

Rublev claimed the only break of a tight first set and dominated a second-set tie-break after Murray had fought back from failing to hold in the opening game.

Murray had been given a way back into the contest when Rublev threw in three double faults in the eighth game of the second set to be pegged back at 4-4, but was unable to force a decider.

Nadal suffered another loss as he works his way back from injury, with Denis Shapovalov coming from a set down to beat the legendary Spaniard 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 10-6.

Rafael Nadal said it felt "special" to be back on court as the 20-time grand slam champion began his latest comeback with defeat to old foe Andy Murray in Abu Dhabi.

The Spaniard was beaten 6-3 7-5 by Murray at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, an exhibition event that for the 35-year-old marks an important step towards a full ATP tour return.

Nadal is coming off a year disrupted by the foot injury that caused him to miss Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open, playing just one event after June.

With the Australian Open a month away, there is plenty of work for these two still to do, but this was a feast for the eyes as the multiple grand slam champions jostled hard for supremacy.

Murray is down at 134th in the ATP rankings and continues to battle his own body after hip and groin problems. However, eye-catching wins late in the season against the likes of Carlos Alcaraz, Hubert Hurkacz, Jannik Sinner and Frances Tiafoe have suggested there might be good times ahead for him in the new year.

Here the Scot broke Nadal's serve to 15 in the sixth game of the first set to seize the initiative. Nadal appeared to be finding a familiar rhythm in the second set, hitting some tremendous clean winners, and at 0-30 down at 4-4 he serve-volleyed twice in succession to get out of trouble.

A contentious line call gave Murray two break points at 5-5, and although Nadal saved one, he fired long at the end of a super rally on the next point. Murray closed out the contest on his second match point, with Nadal flinging a full-throttle backhand long, 

"It's been special to be back in competition," Nadal said in an on-court interview. "At the same time, it's been a while since we played against each other. I'm super happy to see Andy playing at this great level after all the things he went through.

"For me, as a comeback it was not a bad match for me. It's been a long time since I was out on court in a professional match so I've got positive feelings."

These wily old rivals had met 24 times previously at competitive tour level, all of those encounters coming between 2007 and 2016 with Nadal leading 17-7 in the head-to-head.

Nadal won the ATP's comeback player of the year award way back in 2013, and he finds himself looking to prove himself again in 2022, locked together on 20 slams with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Murray, who has won three slams but also been a runner-up eight times in the majors, said: "It's great to be back on the court, able to play at a high level again after a very long time. Me and Rafa have played so many tough matches, but we've not played for five or six years.

"That shows both of us have gone through lots of injury troubles and issues, and it's great to just have the opportunity to be on the court with him again.

"Certainly when I was younger I wasn't appreciating it as much as I do now. It's great to be back on the court, I'm so happy that Rafa's back, and I look forward to the next few years."

Murray will play Andrey Rublev for the title on Saturday, while Nadal features again too, taking on Denis Shapovalov in a third-place match.

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