Andre Agassi can’t see past Novak Djokovic for another men’s title at this year’s Australian Open.
But the four-time winner at Melbourne Park insists he’s awaiting the future day when player from the next generation start to threaten at the majors.
The former great is back in Melbourne for a second straight year as a coach, guiding Grigor Dimitrov a year after working temporarily with Djokovic.
The 48-year-old is enjoying his return along with wife and former women’s champion Steffi Graf, back here for the first time in a decade and a half following her 1999 retirement.
She is filling her days with sponsor commitments, including opening a downtown watch boutique.
Agassi says that it will be a few more years before the kings of the court – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic – give up their superiority.
Between them, the veterans have won 12 of the last 13 Australian Open titles, with only one intrusion from Federer’s Swiss compatriot Stan Wawrinka in 2014. Federer and Djokovi each own six Melbourne trophies.
At the moment, Agassi’s eyes are firmly fixed on the ATP elite trio as favourtes whereever they play.
“I dont think it’s brain surgery to figure out the favourites,” he said. “But things can happen. It’s a one-on-one sport so that prediction could go out the window this early on.
“It’s really about who’s in the best form: Novak’s in great form. Somebody has to stop him.”
The Las Vegas-based former player added that he can sense a change is slowly brewing.
“There’s a feeling amongst players that the time is changing, a new guard is coming in and that gives a lot of hope.”
The American went so far as to tip Aussie youngster Alex de Minaur or even Nick Kyrgios as possible candidates to take over from the current greats someday.
“When I get asked what’s wrong with tennis, I say ‘I’ll tell you what’s wrong – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – that’s what’s wrong,’ Agassi said. “They haven’t left much for anybody else.”
The public brawl which has erupted between Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt and renegade player Bernard Tomic is dominating local issues at the Australian Open.
And Tennis Australia official Wally Masur – captain himself in 2015 – wants the squabbling pair to take it behind closed doors.
Former player Masur, now the performance director, told AAP that the disagreement should be sorted out in private – as unlikely as that might seem in the middle of the local Grand Slam fortnight.
“What I want to get away from is the public tennis game, it being played out in the press,” Masur said. “I’d rather those guys got in a room and they sort it out privately … and I think there’s a chance.
“I wouldn’t say it’s on both of their agendas at the moment but it would be something I am keen to explore.”
Tomic kicked off the stoush after his first-round loss, accusing davis skipper Hewitt of playing favourites when it comes to team selection.
He said that Hewitt should “go away” from the Davis Cup role and stop takingup valuable space in the draw by playing doubles three years after his officials retirement from the ATP.
Tomic declared himself finished with Davis Cup, opting out for good in 2018.
Hewitt immediately fired back, saying Tomic was just “Bernie being Bernie.”
Masur tried to pour water on the public brushfire between Hewitt and Tomic. He looked to be trying to appease both of the warring protagonists:
“To be a good tennis player you’ve got to be stubborn, and these guys have quite a past.
“Maybe there’s a sense of frustration from Lleyton that Bernie hasn’t maximised his potential.”
Tomic, 26 and ranked 88th, said that other players of his generation also felt Hewitt was not the best man for the Davis job, naming Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Both of those men refused to get involved when asked about Tomic’s flame-throwing.
Recovered hip injury victim Bob Bryan has given Andy Murray hope on a permanent fix for his own problem which could conceivably allow the Scot to return to tennis.
The 40-year-old Bryan went down during a match last May in Madrid and has successfully gotten back on court alongside his twin brother Mike at the Australian Open.
Murray is heading home to Britain pondering whether to go through a more definitive hip operation and once again begin the long process of rehab.
“Seeing the way Andy Murray is feeling kind of hit a nerve with me,” Bryan said. “I would love to see him do a similar surgery, feel the relief that it gives.
“I think our hips are pretty similar: just worn down, no cartilage.”
Murray underwent a hip operation a year ago but was never able to make a proper comeback due to a slow recovery.
The 31-year-old put up a five-set battle this week in the first round, going down to Robert Bautista Agut and receiving a hero’s sendoff from the crowd.
Murray has said that he will consider a second surgery and will decide withing days – even if it means he will not be able to play Wimbledon in July.
But Bryan offered some re-assuring news:
“It was nice when I got that surgery. I had a plan. For three months I tried to rehab it, got some stem cell injection at Stanford. Tried a bunch of different things.
“I couldn’t walk right. But once I got the surgery, it was a couple weeks on crutches and a cane. Started feeling no pain at all.
“I’m five months post-op. Just happy to be out here playing with this guy (his twin).”
The Californian added: “I’m happy to be back. I got a metal hip. There was no guarantees I was going to make it back.
“Going in to get a metal hip implant, there’s no one that’s come back from that in tennis. So there were no guarantees. I’m happy it’s feeling good.
“I’m really the only guy to be playing on tour with a metal hip.”
Byran said that Murray has been in close contact regarding hip matters.
“He’s been watching me like a hawk, asking me how I’m feeling after matches, after practices, where I’m at.
“He’s just trying to gauge how long it would take him, if this procedure is an option.
“I’m just trying to be supportive. I never once told him this is the way to go because I do see that singles is a different monster.
“Those guys are really sliding around, killing themselves for four hours. Who knows if this joint would hold up.
“I’m just telling him, I feel great, quality of life is great, practices are going well. The doctors said this is more of like a seven or eight months until you feel perfect.”
Bryan said he feels that Murray is facing “his last option.”
“I would love to see him do it just for quality of life. You can sleep, walk, be with your kids, play. It’s frustrating when you can’t put on your shoes.”
Lleyton Hewitt has brushed off a serve from former protege Bernard Tomic, who charged that the Davis Cup captain is guilty of a conflict of interest over the distribution of wild cards for the Australian Open.
“That’s just Bernie being Bernie,” double Grand Slam winner Hewitt told the Nine Network. “I had a bit of a laugh actually.
“I just laugh it off and move forward. I guess the disappointing thing is the Aussies had such a great day yesterday on the men and women’s side and it probably got overshadowed by Bernie’s comments.”
Hewitt played down Tomic’s assertion that Davis Cup players are getting tired of Hewitt as captain, naming Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, who had to quit his first-round match on Tuesday due to his years-long chronic shoulder injury against Japan’s Taro Daniel.
“I don’t think that there’s a rift,” Hewitt said. “There’s always communication going on between the captain, the coaches and the players and leading into the next tie that will all happen.
“We’ve spoken before the Australian Open, we’ll continue to speak after the Australian Open leading into the next Davis Cup tie.”
Tomic hinted that the soon-to-be 38-year-old Hewitt was being selfish by insisting on playing doubles at the home Grand Slam three years after his official ATP retirement.
He said that the captain has been playing favourites with up-and-coming local hopefuls, steering them to his management company for personal gain while also drawing a healthy cheque from Tennis Australia.
Tomic is one of the bad boys of the Aussie game along with Kyrgios, with the talented but controversial mavericks either loved or hated by various factions of fans.
Both have had disciplinary issues, and both were once under the wing of Hewitt.
Tomic went down in the fist round at Melbourne Park to sixth seed and fofrmer finalist Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-4, 7-6(3); he then blasted Hewitt post-match.
Tomic broke with Tennis Australia and Hewitt for good last year after failing to qualify into the 2018 Open; he won an ATP title last season in China and another on the Challenger level, lifting his ranking enough (No. 88) for direct entry into the major this month.
“No one likes him any more,” Tomic said of Hewitt. “We have a lot of issues that not a lot of players are happy about. We all know who those players are. Myself, Thanasi) and Nick.”
No. 144 Kokkinakis did not receive a wild card, instead going through qualifying last week. Instead, wild card entries went to Hewitt picks Alexei Popyrin (No. 149), Marc Polmans (169) and Alex Bolt (155).
“All these guys that got wildcards are under a system … Polmans, Bolty, Jordan Thompson.. they’re all under his Lleyton’s wing under the management company. It’s all conflict of interest.
“And then he’s in Davis Cup and he’s doing the wrong thing and everyone’s leaving.
“I played Davis Cup for 10 years. I think I played at the youngest age of Australian history when I was 15.
“Lleyton’s legacy and his tennis speaks for itself. He’s an unbelievable champion. But what he’s doing now is wrong. I hope he gets moved and we can go back to having a good captain.”
Maria Sharapova could not muster too much sympathy for Andy Murray’s current dramas, with the five-time Grand Slam winner saying that injuries are all part of the sport.
While other women praised Murray for his feminist tendencies and support of equal prize money, the only major men’s player to have ever been coached by a woman –Amelie Mauresmo – remained a topic of conversation around the grounds on opening day at the Australian Open.
But Murray’s hip problems which are leading to his self-proclaimed retirement later this year were not the major concern of the LA-based Russian,
Sharapova has struggled with her shoulder and other physical problems for more than a decade and has her own fitness to worry about,
The 30th seed started her fortnight with a 6-0, 6-0 thrashing of Murray’s compatriot, qualifier Harriet Dart.
“There’s no time for that (sympathy) , I’m sorry to say. I’ve been in many positions coming out in the fist round of a Grand Slam against a qualifier that played really well.
“There’s no doubt that my level wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I”m not so much worried about my opponent, I have to step up when the time is right- that’s my main goal.”
Sharapova kept any emotion regarding Murray well in check, while praising the Scot for his stands in favour of the women’s game.
“Injuries are just part of the sport, we play ten months out of the year and the commitment that you have to give physically and mentally…
“I can only understand it from the perspective of my shoulder, because that’s something that I have had to deal with since I was 21 years old and really at the peak of my career.
“You realise that you’re not immortal, you’re never going to play this forever, even though we have done it as long as we can think of. Life moves on.”
Sharapova hinted that men players in general have not been overly sympathetic to issues in the women’s game.
“They have been really tough, especially when it came to equality, as a general point. Sitting at a press conference in Wimbledon five, seven years ago, there was not a lot of warmth coming from that side or that perspective. That’s tough.
“But there are definitely a few exceptions in the game, and I’m sure that Andy’s been one of them.”
British No.2 Katie Boulter made history at the Australian Open today, appearing in the first elongated deciding tie break, but it didn’t affect her play as the world No. 97 emerged victorious in a 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 win over experienced Russian Ekaterina Makarova.
Boulter forgot about the new tiebreak system when she though she had won it at 7-4, but composed herself and went on to clinch the tie break 10-6.
Boulter showed some great tennis, with power and penetration, hitting 53 winners to beat the 30 year-old Russian.
And in typical Melbourne heat, she kept her cool when at 3-3 in the decider she had four break points.
On the third she hit what appeared to be the winning shot only for it to be called out.
Boulter, coached by ex-British No. 1 Jeremy Bates, regathered to take the match to the new format tie breaker.
At 5-0 she looked comfortable but her experienced opponent fought back to 5-4. Her reward is a difficult second round against the highly rated Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus.
The chances of injured Andy Murray toughing out his remaining time in tennis until a ceremonial Wimbledon retirement this summer are looking slim due to natural motivational roadblocks.
That’s according to the surgeon who repaired the hip of the former No. 1 in Melbourne a year ago.
Specialist Dr John O’Donnell told the BBC that the mental factors surrounding the damaged right hip of the double Wimbledon winner and Olympic gold medallist are hard to predict.
“It will be very difficult (for Murray to make it through another six months of ATP tennis),” he said.
“He is very keen to play the Australian Open, but Wimbledon is the high point for him. Ideally he would want to play there,” the doctor said.
He then warned:
“I imagine once you make the decision to stop it must get very difficult to keep going with the rehab, never-ending exercising, and putting up with the pain.
“Once you see the end in sight, I guess it would be harder to get motivated.”
Murray opened his doomed Melbourne campaign against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, whose hardcourt game has been good enough for three fourth-round spots here.
A tearful Murray confessed last week that he can make no guarantees about surviving until his beloved British grass summer, adding that any match from here on in could be his last.
O’Donnell told the BBC that Murray’s options are limited by the seriousness of his hip concerns.,
While a hip replacement might be worth it for the average person, the same cannot be said for an elite sportsman.
“Andy has tried really hard and explored every option that has any real possibility of being helpful.
“Realistically I don’t think there is anywhere else to go to preserve his hip and get it better so he can continue to play. That won’t happen now.”
Murray first felt his hip in a major way at Roland Garros two years ago and had his operation in secret in Melbourne almost exactly a year ago.
His comeback attempts dating to Queen’s last June came to little and he gave up the 2018 effort after six attempts, opting out of Wimbledon while winning a round at the US Open.
His 2019 campaign has featured a first-round win at Brisbane this month.
Australian Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt continues to stretch the working definition of “retired,” with the evergreen champion planning to front up again for doubles at the Australian Open.
The two-time Grand Slam winner who played his last Tour match here three years ago (losing to now-retiring David Ferrer) is no stranger to the doubles court.
The Melbourne effort for the player who turns 38 next month will be his third of the season after playing at Brisbane with rising talent Alex De Minaur and last week in Sydney alongside Jordan Thompson.
Hewitt will team at the Open with compatriot John-Patrick Smith; a year ago, Hewitt and Sam Groth played doubles at the major on a wildcard entry, reaching a respectable fourth round.
“We played pretty well last year and that gave me the buzz to come back and play again,” Hewitt told broadcaster Nine Network. “I played pretty well with Jordan Thompson in Sydney last week.
“But it does give you a big buzz when you’ve been retired for an awfully long time.
“Obviously I can’t quite do it on the singles court anymore but to go out and play doubles with some of the Australians is a lot of fun.”
Hewitt will squeeze doubles into his schedule for the fortnight, with his main job watching the progress of Aussie players.
Hewitt and Smith opening play against the New Zealand pair of Marcus Daniells and Dutchman Wesley Koolhof .
“We compliment each other’s game styles out there,” the veteran said. “I’m pretty handy from the back of the court and he’s really good out at the net so hopefully we can get together and have some good wins.”
One of the players who set the template for successful injury comebacks can see the despair that is affecting Andy Murray as the Scot begins his long goodbye to tennis.
With his operated hip still a huge problem, Murray will begin the Australian open with serious doubts about his ability to last on the court in battle conditions.
But the former No. 1 can also perhaps take heart from Novak Djokovic, who spent more than a year in 2017-2018 in overcoming elbow problems and his own operation to return to the top of the ATP.
Djokovic, winner of six Melbourne titles, can feel the despair that is affecting Murray after a hit with the Scot in the run-up to the first Grand Slam of 2019.
“To see him struggle so much and go through so much pain, it’s very sad and it hurts me as his longtime friend, colleague, rival,” the Serb said.
“it was very obvious for everyone, you saw it, you didn’t need to be on court to notice that he’s struggling, that he’s not moving as well as he normally does.
“We’ve seen so many years of Andy Murray being one of the fittest guys on the tour, running around the court, getting always an extra ball back.
“Our trajectory to the professional tennis world was pretty much similar. His birthday is one week before mine. We’ve grown together playing junior events.
We’ve played lots of epic matches in the professional circuit. Our games are quite alike.”
The world No. 1 said he and the Scot remain relatively close – as far as rivals can be.
“I’m proud to have that kind of relationship that will go on hopefully for many more years, regardless of whether he continues playing, whatever happens.
“I can probably relate a little bit to what he’s going through. His hip injury is something probably certainly far more worse than my (elbow) injury.
“It’s something he’s been carrying for a couple of years.
“As an athlete, that’s probably the biggest obstacle and enemy that you can have: an injury.”
Djokovic added that watching Murray struggle is tough.
“It’s really hard to see him going through those emotions, on the court and off the court. He touched us all definitely. I definitely wish him a painless future in whatever shape or form that is, on or off the court, as well.”