Novak Djokovic welcomed the "positive" reception he has received from his fellow players, after making his first appearance since missing the Australian Open.

Djokovic, whose decision not to be vaccinated against COVID-19 caused him to be deported from Australia on the eve of the year's first grand slam, eased to a 6-3 6-3 win over Lorenzo Musetti in just 74 minutes at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

Djokovic spoke publicly about his vaccination status for the first time in a BBC interview last week, while rival Andy Murray, who has spoken about his support for vaccination on numerous occasions, said that he "didn't like seeing" Djokovic's ordeal in Australia after his own win in Dubai.

Serbia's 20-time Grand Slam winner says that most of his fellow professionals have been supportive upon his return to action.

"So far here most of the players that I’ve seen – I haven’t seen too many players – but most of the players that I've seen have been positive and welcoming", he said after his round-of-32 win.

"It's nice to see, obviously. I can't say that was the case in Australia. It was a little bit strange. But here, it's gone well so far."

The 34-year-old impressed against Musetti, serving five aces, winning 71 per cent of his second serves (17 out of 24) and saving each of the seven break points he faced during his first outing of the year, and Djokovic was also pleased with the reception he received from the fans in Dubai, as well as with his performance. 

"I couldn't ask for a better reception," he added.

"It's been a while since I played, and I couldn't think of a better place to kick-start the season. Thank you for the reception and for welcoming me on court the way you did.

Former world number one Andy Murray did not like how Novak Djokovic was treated in Australia but says the 20-time major winner must live with the consequences of his decisions.

Murray and Djokovic both progressed through the first round at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Monday.

The Serbian's 6-3 6-3 win over Lorenzo Musetti marked his first on the ATP Tour in 2022, coming in the wake of his deportation from Australia due to his vaccination status ahead of the first major of the calendar year.

It remains unclear if Djokovic will be permitted to compete at this year's other majors - the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open - given he remains unvaccinated.

"Like I said at the time, I don't agree with his decision. I think it would be a lot easier for him, obviously, if he was to get vaccinated," Murray told reporters after beating Australian Christopher O'Connell 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 7-5 in Dubai.

"But I also didn't like seeing him in the situation that he was in Australia as someone that I respect and have known since I was a child. I didn't like seeing that.

"There is consequences to the decisions he's made just now. He obviously has to accept that. But I don't think it's great for tennis if our best player is not competing in the major events."

Djokovic admitted after his win over Musetti that, as it stands, he cannot enter the United States to compete at next month's prestigious Indian Wells Masters, let alone the US Open.

The world number one added that he was hopeful the situation may change "in the next few weeks".

Novak Djokovic won his first match back on the ATP Tour since missing the Australian Open, beating Lorenzo Musetti in the round of 32 at the Dubai Tennis Championships.

The men's world number one had not played a competitive match since early December and was last month deported from Australia on the eve of the Australian Open.

That decision was a result of Djokovic opting not to join the majority of his tennis peers in getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and amid controversy over how he handled getting the virus himself in December.

On Monday, he eased to a 6-3 6-3 win over Musetti in just 74 minutes in his first match of 2022, hitting five aces, winning an impressive 71 per cent of his second serves (17 out of 24) and saving all seven break points he faced against the Italian.

"All in all, it's a straight-sets win, so of course I have to be satisfied with my tennis, especially after not playing for two-and-a-half, three months," Djokovic said on court after the win.

"Of course, there were moments when I played great, there were moments when I made a couple of unforced errors in a row uncharacteristically. But it's normal to expect that [in my] first match after a while."

Djokovic will play the winner of Karen Khachanov against Alex de Minaur in the last 16.

Andy Murray is also through after a 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 7-5 win against Australian qualifier Christopher O'Connell. The Scot edged a tough match that lasted almost three hours, saving seven of eight break points faced. He will play either Alejandro Davidovich Fokina or Jannik Sinner next.

Elsewhere, Jiri Vesely overcame Marin Cilic 6-4 7-6 (7-3), while Filip Krajinovic beat Malek Jaziri 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-4 and Taro Daniel eliminated David Goffin after a 6-3 7-6 (7-5) win.

Andy Murray suffered one of the heaviest losses of his career in the second round of the Qatar Open, while Andrey Rublev escaped an early exit at the Open 13. 

Former world number one Murray went down 6-0 6-1 to last year's runner-up Roberto Bautista Agut in Doha on Wednesday. 

It was just the fourth occasion in which the three-time major champion has lost a match while winning only one game or fewer in his career – the last time being a defeat by the same scoreline to Roger Federer at the ATP Finals in 2014. 

Murray's fellow Briton Dan Evans also endured a second-round loss, going down 4-6 7-5 6-4 to Alejandro Davidovich Fokina – Bautista Agut's next opponent. 

Denis Shapovalov bounced back from his first-round loss to Jiri Lehecka in Rotterdam last week by dropping just eight points on serve as he claimed a 6-4 6-0 victory over Alex Molcan inside 52 minutes. 

Next up for the Canadian will be Arthur Rinderknech after the Frenchman came from a set down to defeat seventh seed Alexander Bublik 6-7 (5-7) 6-1 6-4. 

Nikoloz Basilashvili faced little trouble in overcoming Elias Ymer 6-4 7-5 and his reward is a quarter-final against Marton Fucsovics, who got the better of Kwon Soon-woo. 

Karen Khachanov and Marin Cilic will meet in the last eight after they respectively eliminated Emil Ruusuvuori and Botic van de Zandschulp. 

In Marseille, second seed Rublev was made to work hard for a place in the Open 13 quarter-finals by home hope Richard Gasquet. 

Gasquet went a break up in the third set and, after surrendering his advantage, stopped Rublev serving out the match to force a tie-break. 

However, the world number seven did not waste his next opportunity as he sealed a 4-6 6-4 7-6 (7-3) success. 

Aslan Karatsev also booked his place in the last eight, while there were wins for Frenchmen Benjamin Bonzi and Lucas Pouille too. 

Andy Murray made a winning start at the Qatar Open after defeating Taro Daniel 6-2 6-2 in Doha.

The three-time grand slam winner was beaten in straight sets when he faced Daniel in the second round at the Australian Open last month.

But he avenged that defeat with a dominant display against the world number 110 that saw him prevail in one hour and 20 minutes.

Murray boasts an impressive record at the ATP 250 event, lifting the trophy in 2008 and 2009 while reaching a further two finals (2007 and 2017).

And the 34-year-old wildcard will face second seed Roberto Bautista Agut in round two.

"Taro played very well in Australia," Murray said. "He had a very good run there and was too good for me there. 

"I tried to be the one dictating from the first point, and I thought I did that well. It was one of the better matches I've played in recent months.

"Obviously, the results from years ago aren't going to affect the results this week.

"But what it tells me is that the conditions here are good for my game, so if I can play to a good level, the courts are going to suit me here, and I'll make it difficult for everyone I play against."

Elsewhere, seventh seed Alexander Bublik hit 25 winners – including seven aces – in a 6-2 6-4 victory over Slovakia's Jozef Kovalik.

However, there was no joy for Lloyd Harris; the eighth seed was beaten in straight sets by Hungarian Marton Fucsovics for the second year running.

Over at Open 13 in Marseille, three-time winner Jo-Wilfried Tsonga overcame fellow wildcard Gilles Simon 6-2 6-4 in the battle of the players boasting five titles between them at the event.

But seventh seed Alexei Popyrin lost out in a deciding-set tie-break to world number 163 Roman Safiullin.

Andy Murray suffered defeat in the second round of the Rotterdam Open as he fell in straight sets to Felix Auger-Aliassime, while Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas progressed. 

Murray, who triumphed at this tournament in 2009, battled past Alexander Bublik in his opening match but struggled to replicate that form against Auger-Aliassime on Thursday. 

The Scot was never in control against the world number nine, who will face Murray's fellow Briton Cameron Norrie in the quarter-final, as he was downed 6-3 6-4 by the third seed. 

"From the start of the match I was ready and focused and I think that is why I was able to produce a high level from the first point," Auger-Aliassime said on court after his victory.  

"He made me bring out my best tennis and I am really happy with the way I played and that I was able to stay ahead. [To] win in straight sets is a great relief." 

Top seed Tsitsipas, who was a beaten semi-finalist in this event last year, made light work of Ilya Ivashka as he raced to a 6-4 6-1 triumph in just one hour and 11 minutes to tee up a last-eight meeting with Alex de Minaur. 

Reigning champion Rublev cruised past Soonwoo Kwon in similar fashion with a 6-3 6-3 win to secure his seventh straight victory at the ATP 500 tournament. 

Meanwhile, qualifier Jiri Lehecka recovered from a first-set scare against Botic van de Zandschulp to succeed 1-6 6-4 6-4, with Lorenzo Musetti awaiting the Czech in the next round. 

Andy Murray set up a second-round clash with Felix Auger-Aliassime at the Rotterdam Open, but fourth seed Hubert Hurkacz was stunned by Lorenzo Musetti. 

Former world number one Murray secured an impressive 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 victory over Alexander Bublik, who entered the tournament on the back of the biggest win of his career over Alexander Zverev in the Montpellier final last week. 

Murray stopped the Kazakh serving out the opening set with a crucial break and appeared in fine form as he closed out the win. 

"There were some tough moments in the first set for both of us. I just managed to come through at the end of it. Some great returns off some big second serves from him at the end and I did a good job," said Murray. 

"It’s not easy playing against someone like that, huge serves, a lot of drop shots and you’ve got to keep your focus and I did that well." 

Up next for Murray is Australian Open quarter-finalist and third seed Auger-Aliassime, who came from a set down to beat qualifier Egor Gerasimov 3-6 6-2 6-2. 

"[Auger-Aliassime] started the year pretty well and is one of the best young players just now," said Murray. "I'll need to be on my game if I want to beat him, but it's a great test for me and we'll see what happens out there." 

Musetti advanced to the quarter-finals after a 6-3 5-7 6-4 triumph over Hurkacz, dropping just one point on his first serve in the decisive set. 

Cameron Norrie defeated Karen Khachanov 6-4 7-6 (7-5) to reach the last eight, while Alex De Minaur was also a 7-6 (8-6) 1-6 6-4 victor against Mackenzie McDonald in the second round.

Andy Murray has decided to skip the entire clay court season, including the French Open, as he feels the surface aggravated "issues" in the past.

Former world number one Murray has endured a torrid time with injuries in the past few years, but he has featured more regularly since the second half of last season.

While he only made it as far as the second round at last month's Australian Open, his preparation for the year's opening grand slam saw him reach a first final on the ATP Tour since October 2019.

He lost to Aslan Karatsev in the decider of the Sydney Classic, going down 6-3 6-3, but the Scot's run to the final provided evidence he still has plenty to offer.

Murray will not be playing in the next grand slam, though.

The eyes of the tennis world will be on Roland Garros in late May and early June, but Murray is opting to miss that and every other event on clay for fear of worsening his condition, with Wimbledon scheduled to begin on June 27.

"Right now, I am not planning on playing through the clay," the three-time grand slam winner said.

"The past couple of years, the clay has made issues worse; last year I had some issues at the beginning of the year, the clay didn't help, so I've spoken to my team about that and this year while I feel good and healthy, I don't want to take that risk.

"It's not that I wouldn't potentially play on clay in the future. Last year I almost missed Wimbledon, was close to not playing the grass season. I'm not planning on playing the clay. I will still try to compete a bit during that period, I won't do nothing, that's my plan just now.

"I had a busy end of last year and the next couple of months I won't take any risks and hopefully get a good build up to the grass season."

Murray parted ways with long-term coach Jamie Delgado in December and then decided against making Jan de Witt a permanent member of his team following a trial period leading up to and through the Australian Open.

The 34-year-old is now once again working with Dani Vallverdu, Stan Wawrinka's coach, having teamed up with him between 2010 and 2014.

But Murray accepts the situation is far from ideal, with Vallverdu only available while Wawrinka continues his rehabilitation from a foot injury that has kept him out since March last year.

"It's not been easy to find someone," Murray added.

"Obviously, Stan Wawrinka has been rehabbing for quite a long time and is hopefully coming back to the tour, but he agreed for Dani to come and work with me for a few weeks over the next month or so, which is great for me in the short term, but still trying to find a longer-term solution.

"It's not that straightforward, I'm not as in demand as a few years ago. Ultimately, I want it to be the right person. I'm aware there's no perfect setup, but medium, longer term I want some stability and will try and get that in the next few weeks."

Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner have been replaced by Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the upcoming Rotterdam Open.

World number two Medvedev lost a thrilling five-set Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal on Sunday and does not feel ready to compete in the Netherlands.

The Russian explained his decision in a statement on Thursday, while Sinner has had to pull out due to COVID-19.

"Unfortunately I will not play in Rotterdam this year," Medvedev said. 

"I just got back from Australia and am not ready to compete. Rotterdam is one of the favourite stops. I look forward to coming back in the future."

Roberto Bautista Agut and Borna Coric had already pulled out of the competition. Tournament director Richard Krajicek has confirmed that Murray and Tsonga, who won the event in 2009 and 2017 respectively, will now take part as wild cards.

Andrey Rublev is the reigning champion in Rotterdam after beating Marton Fucsovics in last year's final.

Taro Daniel delivered a fine display as he defeated former world number one Andy Murray in straight sets at the Australian Open.

Murray, a five-time finalist in Melbourne, defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-1 3-6 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 in his first-round match on Tuesday, yet the Scot was no match for Japan's Daniel two days later.

Perhaps fatigue played its part, with Murray struggling to find his rhythm against the qualifier, who is ranked 120th in the world.

Murray had never before lost to a player ranked as low as Daniel, who has reached the third round of a grand slam for the first time.

Daniel sealed a 6-4 6-4 6-4 success with a neat backhand volley, taking the match at the first time of asking.

Murray, who had been targetting a "deep run" in the tournament, walked off court in disgruntled fashion, offering a quick acknowledgement to the crowd after his first appearance in the season's opening major since 2019.

Asked in his post-match news conference if he planned to return to Melbourne next year, Murray told reporters: "Yes, but not if I do what I did tonight too often.

"I want to perform well on the big events and what I did tonight was not good enough. Reaching the second round of grand slams doesn't particularly motivate me."

While Murray was far from the level he displayed against Basilashvili, Daniel's performance was more than worthy of victory.

"Winning a big match like this is unbelievable," the 28-year-old said. "It was an amazing level from me, I was getting nervous in the third set.

"I tried not to make a big deal about this – everyone said I was playing Murray – but I tried to treat it like another match."

Murray, meanwhile, did not use fatigue as an excuse.

"I felt alright physically so I was pleased from that perspective," he said. "I just made way too many errors on the court."

The statistics back up Murray's claim. He won just two out of 11 break points and made 49 unforced errors, with Daniel only making 21.

Daniel struck 12 aces to Murray's seven, recording a first-serve win percentage of 79.

Murray's first-serve win percentage was down at 66, while he also made three double faults to Daniel's two.

Andy Murray knows it would have been easy to retire from tennis after his hip surgery but is instead revelling at being able to compete at the Australian Open once again.

Former world number one Murray is featuring in the season's first grand slam for the first time in three years.

In true Murray fashion, he overcame Georgian 21st-seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in five sets in a mammoth first-round tie to set up a clash with Japan's Taro Daniel on Thursday.

That Murray is here at all is remarkable given the scenes in 2019 when the now 34-year-old gave an emotional news conference following a first-round defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut questioning whether he would be able to continue playing.

Speaking about his Melbourne return, Murray told BBC Sport: "To be finally back at the Australian Open again this year, playing on the same court as 2019 and then beating Basilashvili in five sets, was a brilliant experience.

"In 2019 it didn't feel like it was me out there on the court. I was severely hampered physically and had little to no preparation. I didn't know if I was going to be able to play again.

"After the hip surgery, and loads of stops and starts with more niggles, playing in grand slams again is a place which I have worked so hard to get to.

"It would have been easy to stop playing, but I kept trying and trying. I'm proud of that work and effort."

Murray was unable to compete in Melbourne in 2021 after testing positive for COVID-19.

"There was another setback last year when I couldn't come to Australia because I tested positive for coronavirus shortly before I was supposed to fly out," he continued.

"That was brutal for me. I had trained really hard through the end of November and December, I was playing really well. I had played lots of practice, I felt really fit and then that positive test happened. I was gutted.

"I was healthy, I'd just had the virus and recovered from it. I understood the rules and situation here in Melbourne but I just wished I would have been able to play."

Murray reached the final of the Sydney Classic earlier in January, eventually going down to Alan Karatsev 6-3 6-3. It was just the second ATP Tour-level final he has reached since the start of 2019.

Now, the three-time major winner is hoping to push on after that morale-boosting success over Basilashvili.

"Beating Basilashvili was a big win for me," Murray added. "A lot of work has gone into getting back to this tournament and to physically compete at the highest level, so beating a guy ranked in the top 25 and winning a match in five sets was very satisfying.

"I'm probably never going to move as well as I did as I did when I was 25.

"But the more matches I play, staying healthy for a long period of time and not missing lots of training, means I am going to continue to improve my movement. Then, my physicality on the court will get better."

Nick Kyrgios compared the crowd during his Australian Open first-round win to a zoo as fans copied a famous Cristiano Ronaldo celebration at almost every point.

Cries of 'siuu' could be heard throughout much of the home favourite's straight-sets victory over Liam Broady, his first match since a Laver Cup defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in September.

The shouts were apparently mimicking Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo's famous goal celebration.

There were similar incidents during Andy Murray's battling five-set win over Nikoloz Basilashvili, as the five-time finalist won his first match at the Melbourne major since 2017.

The raucous crowds caused confusion as many observers wondered if Murray and Kyrgios were being booed on court, despite each player also enjoying huge support.

Kyrgios later explained he was not surprised to hear the noise from the stands but was taken aback by how long they persisted.

"It's just a stupid, f***, I can't believe they did it so much," he said after his 6-4 6-4 6-3 victory on John Cain Arena. "They were doing some Ronaldo thing. Ronaldo does it every time he scores.

"It's like... I thought they were going to do it for like 10 minutes. They did it for two and a half hours, like, every point. I don't know why. It was a zoo out there."

Murray had wondered if the crowd was turning on him during his epic 6-1 3-6 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 victory because he had been targeted during his practice session on Monday.

"Initially, I thought it was [booing] because there were some people booing during my practice yesterday," he said. "I have no idea what for! 

"But then, after a few times, it was like, no, they're doing that, I think it's like 'Siuu' or something that Ronaldo does when he scores. And, yeah, it was incredibly irritating!"

Kyrgios produced some superb if often unorthodox tennis as he booked a second-round clash with world number two Daniil Medvedev, who is the highest-ranked male in the draw following the refusal to allow Novak Djokovic to compete.

The 26-year-old would like to return to John Cain to aid his chances of improving his record against the Russian to 3-0.

"It's going to be a hell of an experience for me," he said. "He's probably 'the' best player in the world at the moment. So I'm pretty excited, I'm excited for that moment. That's why I play the game.

"I feel like those matches still excite me, to go out there and play the best in the world. That was always something I wanted to prove to people that someone like me could do, win those matches.

"I'm not going to go into it with a lot of expectation. I'm going to go out there, have some fun, play my game. I have a pretty set-in-stone game plan of what I need to do to have success.

"As I said, he's probably the best player in the world, he does everything extremely well. He's a hard worker, ticks all the boxes. I'm not going to even think about that now. To play it on John Cain would be – I'm just going to call it the Kyrgios Court – would be fun."

Andy Murray marked his return to the Australian Open with a thrilling five-set win over Nikoloz Basilashvili and immediately targeted "a deep run" in the competition.

The three-time grand slam winner edged 21st seed Basilashvili 6-1 3-6 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 in a first-round match that lasted three hours and 52 minutes.

It is Murray's first win at the tournament in five years in what was his first outing at Melbourne Park since 2019, when he thought he might have to retire.

Murray was playing on the same court where a retirement video was played after defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut three years ago.

But the 34-year-old has battled back from injury setbacks admirably and last week reached his first ATP Tour final since October 2019 at the Sydney Classic.

With Japan's Taro Daniel now standing between Murray and a place in round three of the Australian Open, the five-time beaten finalist is eager to make up for lost time.

"It's amazing to be back," Murray said in his on-court interview. "It's been a tough three, four years. 

"I have put a lot of work to be back here and I have played on this court many times and the atmosphere has been incredible. 

"I have always had fantastic support and this is the court I thought I potentially played my last match on. 

"But it is good to be back, winning a five-set battle like that. I could not ask for any more.

"I would love to have a deep run here if possible. It's something I have not had at one of the slams since I came back from the injury and it is something that motivates me."

Wild card Murray broke hard-hitting Basilashvili nine times on John Cain Arena, but he looked physically drained as the match dragged on.

The former world number one showed incredible resolve to take the deciding set, however, against an opponent that had lost just once in seven previous five-set battles.

"I will hopefully keep improving. There are things in my game I can definitely do better," Murray said.

"I have played some of my best tennis here over the years. I feel comfortable here and I hope I can do well here this tournament."

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.

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