What weve already learned in 2019 as Murray & Nadal struggle while Djokovic & Federer enjoy solid starts
We may be just two days in to the new tennis season, but weve already learned plenty about the landscape in 2019.
There have already been numerous injury struggles, shock results and tough battles to kick off whats set to be another dramatic year in the sport – with question marks still hanging over some of the most recognised stars in the game heading into the Australian Open.
Here we take a look back at a frantic start to the New Year and what it may mean for the rest of the season ahead.
Andy Murray has a long way to go
If British tennis fans entered the new season with cautious optimism regarding the future endeavours of one of the most decorated athletes from these shores, then they were served a reality check on the opening days of 2019.
Murray may have looked in decent form as he eased past James Duckworth in the first round but he complained of hip pain once more and seemed to begrudgingly accept that the end of his time in the sport could be on the horizon sooner rather than later.
Fast-forward 24 hours and he was taught a lesson by one of tennis rising stars Daniil Medvedev. The Russian world No. 16 has proven himself to be one of the most dangerous players on a hard court over the past six months and eased past a fallen giant of the game who is ranked some 224 places below him on the ATP leaderboard.
What Murray said after Medvedev defeat
I made too many mistakes. When you play better players – he is 15 in the world or so, a top player – they will expose any errors you make in your game or any shots you are not hitting particularly well. He did that tonight.
As you play up the levels, whether it is issues with your game – whether you are not serving as well or moving as well – the better players exploit that. I need to try and find a way of working out how to get around with some of the things I am struggling with now and I will try and do that.
On his hip: OK. Not perfect. Better than how I was competing a few months ago, when I was playing and competing back-to-back days.
While Medvedev has a bright future in front of him – and will be an unwelcome sight for any of the sports biggest stars should he land in their section of the draw in Melbourne – Murray is set for months of struggle as he attempts to wrestle with the physical and emotional limitations placed upon him by his long-term hip problem.
Can he face being outclassed by opponents he would have expected to ease beyond just a matter of 18 months ago? Can his hip hold up against the strain of back-to-back matches? Will he find a schedule that makes the pain of competing more bearable?
These are questions he – and we – will learn the answers to in the coming months but dont expect any great shakes from the three-time Grand Slam champion when the Australian Open rolls around.
Rafael Nadals injury woes are not behind him
It was a familiar sight on Tuesday when the clearly frustrated Spaniard called a press conference to withdraw from yet another hard court event.
He has completed just one tournament on the surface in his past 13 attempts since the start of 2018 and his latest thigh niggle saw him pull out of the Brisbane International.
Few can knock Nadals ability to pick himself up and dust himself down from the devastating range of injuries that have ravaged him throughout his career but this latest setback will serve as another testing mental blow.
Tennis fans will hope he recovers in time for the Australian Open but even if he does there are question marks over his chances of coming through seven matches to bag a second title at Melbourne Park.
Djokovic and Federer are the men to beat in Australia
Okay… maybe this isnt exactly groundbreaking information! But the manner in which Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have started their seasons will be great cause for concern for the rest of the contenders in Melbourne.
Federer looked crotchety and somewhat off the pace after a fast start to 2018 and questions of his decline were inevitable. But despite clocking up 37 years, the Swiss remains one of the smoothest operators in the testing Australian summer conditions and he has looked sharp in his Hopman Cup singles matches – while also landing a satisfying win over fellow GOAT Serena Williams in the mixed doubles.
Defending his title at the Australian Open wont be a walk in the park, though, with Djokovic showing two key elements of his game in back-to-back matches to start the year.
His first victory was equivalent to a pleasant stroll in the park against Damir Dzumhur but he was more stiffly tested as he fought back from a set down against an inspired Marton Fucsovics on Wednesday.
Proving he can not be at his best and still win ugly in the latter can provide him extra confidence heading into the first Grand Slam of the season.
Both Federer and Djokovic are targeting an outright record seventh title at Melbourne Park – it would be some story if they both collided in the final to scrap it out to become the standalone most succcessful player in the tournaments history…
British No. 1s need to learn to win ugly
With Murrays ongoing injury struggles, British tennis really needs one of the other stars to step up to avoid a potentially brief Australian summer.
Kyle Edmund and Johanna Konta have both enjoyed runs to the semi-finals in recent years but both are guilty of inconsistency throughout the year.
Konta enjoyed a statement straight sets win over former US Open champion Sloane Stephens on New Years day but failed to follow it up in defeat to Ajla Tomljanovic, losing 6-2 7-6.
Such inconsistent results saw her slide from world No. 4 to outside the top-40 and to build her ranking back up quickly will require a sustained period of improved results.
Edmund improved drastically in 2018 but the 23-year-old remains open to a surprise early loss.
The latest in this series was to Japanese world No. 180 Yasutaka Uchiyama and while the Yorkshireman deserves the benefit of the doubt on his competitive return to a court after the off-season, its the sort of match he should not be losing.