Djokovic and Serena lead old guard into new decade at Australian Open - GulfToday

Djokovic and Serena lead old guard into new decade at Australian Open


Novak Djokovic plays a shot during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne on Sunday. Agence France-Presse

Veterans Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams will hold the fortress against the younger generation of the players as the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the new decade, gets under way on Monday.

The ageing Djokovic and Serena, who is seeking a record-equalling 24th Major title, are still hot favourites among the punters.

Rafael Nadal is ecstatic after rising to top of the rankings at 33 while Roger Federer at 38 will look to get better of the younger compatriots in his bid for the 21st Grand Slam title.

The beginning of the new decade is somewhat similar to the preceding one, when Federer and Nadal shared the four Grand Slam titles and Serena won in Melbourne and Wimbledon.

The three big guys in the men’s tennis still maintain their strangle hold on the grand slams, having won all the majors since 2004 except two Australian Open titles and Serena is just one win away from from Margaret Court’s record.

The men’s dominance is stark: since Federer won his first Grand Slam title in 2003, only five Major finals have not featured one of the Swiss, Nadal or Djokovic.

 Several challengers have come and gone but there is increasing hope for the men’s up-and-comers, while nine women have won Grand Slam titles since Williams, 38, claimed her 23rd in Melbourne in 2017.

While Djokovic and Nadal split last year’s Grand Slams, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and Fabio Fognini won their first Masters trophies and Stefanos Tsitsipas, 21, became the youngest ATP Finals champion in 18 years.

 “They’re very close. I don’t think that’s miles, miles away maybe as it was some years ago,” Djokovic of the NextGen winning a Major title. “I think they are definitely hungry. They’re challenging. They’re knocking on the door.”

 The clash between old and new will be epitomised in the first round on Monday, when Venus Williams, who turns 40 this year, plays 15-year-old rising star Coco Gauff -- who wasn’t even born when her fellow American lifted her first Grand Slam trophies in 2000.

 Japan’s Naomi Osaka, 22, is defending a title for the second Grand Slam in a row after her repeat bid at last year’s US Open fell flat in the fourth round.

 World number one Ashleigh Barty, fresh from winning the Adelaide International on Saturday, carries Australian hopes of seeing the first home-grown women’s winner since 1978.

 “Obviously it’s the perfect preparation. But regardless of whether I won the title or not last week, I feel like I’m well-prepared,” Barty said.

 “I’m happy, I’m healthy. I’m coming into the first Grand Slam of the year with a smile on my face. That’s all I can ask of myself.”

 The tournament is taking place against the backdrop of a bushfires emergency that has swept the nation and ramped up fears over global warming -- and billowed choking smog across Melbourne and other cities.

 After player anger during qualifying and practice, when several were hit by coughing fits and breathing problems, air pollution returned to ‘moderate’ levels over the weekend, with rain forecast for the start of the tournament.

Meanwhile, doubles legend Bob Bryan is backing “madman” Murray to play for “many more years” despite the Briton being forced out of the Australian Open with another injury.

The veteran American had a major hip operation in 2018 but bounced back to continue his hugely successful doubles partnership with twin Mike.

Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray had similar, career-saving surgery 12 months ago and in October won his first title since going under the knife.


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