Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Next Gen among Australian Open talking points

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Is it the end of the road for Andy Murray?

The first grand slam of the new season will see a number of fascinating storylines play out.

Can the old stagers continue to get the better of the young pretenders or will this be the tournament where the torch is finally passed, and what of the British hopefuls?

Here, Press Association Sport picks out five talking points for the Australian Open.

MURRAY TRYING AGAIN

When Andy Murray called an early end to a seriously truncated 2018 season, it was with the aim of a much more positive 2019. But, a year on from hip surgery and more than 18 months after the problem first surfaced, hopes that the Scot might be able to return to his level of old are fading fast.

His movement is still compromised and he remains in pain. Going into the tournament unseeded, Murray’s return to Melbourne could be a brief one, although he is playing well enough to take advantage should the draw be kind.

Of Britain’s other main hopes, Kyle Edmund has the pressure of defending semi-final points and doubts over a knee issue while Johanna Konta will look to show she is heading in the right direction again under new coach Dimitri Zavialoff.

SERENA BACK ON THE STAGE

SerenaWilliams (1)

Serena Williams might have begun 2019 with no intention of looking back but her first competitive match since the tumultuous US Open final will take place at Melbourne Park and she would surely be better off confronting what happened in New York rather than continuing to shy away from talking about it.

On the court, the 37-year-old will once again be among the favourites to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 slam singles titles in her fourth major tournament since childbirth.

Her form at Flushing Meadows prior to being outplayed by Naomi Osaka indicated she is more than capable.

CAN ANYONE STOP DJOKOVIC?

Back to his old self: Novak Djokovic.

Back to his old self: Novak Djokovic.

Whatever happens, it is clear the Novak Djokovic, who lost in straight sets to Chung Hyeon in Melbourne 12 months ago, is a very different animal to the one who returns to his most successful grand slam.

Back at world number one and, judging by his performances over the last three months of the 2018 season, back at the top of his game.

The Serbian will be bidding for a third consecutive slam title and looks as hungry as ever to chase down the sport’s records. Has suffered surprising losses in his last three tournaments but has not been beaten at a slam since June.

FEDERER FADING?

Roger-Federer-Tennis (2)

While Djokovic battled through his two-year slump, Federer returned to the grand slam winners’ circle and arrives in Melbourne looking for a third title in a row.

But, while 2018 may have begun in the same fashion as 2017, the rest of the season was far less successful for the 37-year-old Swiss. Even Federer cannot hold back time forever, and there has not been the same confidence about the Swiss, especially in close matches.

NEXT GEN TRY AGAIN

AlexanderZverev

In Osaka, women’s tennis appears to have found a new superstar, and she will now have to cope with the pressure of sky-high expectations. Aryna Sabalenka is another 20-year-old rising fast and the big question for 2019 is whether male players of a similar age can at last make their mark on the biggest stage.

By beating Federer and Djokovic back to back to win the ATP Finals to close 2018, Alexander Zverev made a statement but he has so far under-performed at the slams.

The likes of Karen Khachanov, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev, Borna Coric, Denis Shapovalov and Alex De Minaur have the talent, but can they seize the opportunity?

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Australian Open taking a cool approach to warm weather in 2019

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Men competing in singles games at the Australian Open will get 10-minute breaks if the forthcoming grand slam’s notorious heat reaches hazardous levels.

Tournament chiefs have unveiled an extended extreme heat policy designed to protect the well-being of the world’s best tennis players when they meet in the next few weeks.

Temperatures soared towards 40C (104F) in the shade at the 2018 edition of the competition in Melbourne, Victoria, prompting concerns that competitors were at risk of heat stroke.

Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils were among the big-hitters to warn that play was taking place in potentially-dangerous conditions.

The mid-Australian summer open’s tournament director, Craig Tiley, said the players’ well-being was their “utmost priority” and an overhauled “heat stress scale” had been developed by Tennis Australia medical personnel and experts at the University of Sydney.

Roger Federer is the reigning Australian Open champion.

Roger Federer is the reigning Australian Open champion.

“The AO Heat Stress Scale ranges from one to five with specific recommendations associated with each step of the scale – one denoting temperate playing conditions and five the suspension of play,” he said.

“Under the updated policy, 10-minute breaks can also be introduced into men’s singles matches for the first time.”

The scale accounts for the physiological variances between adults, wheelchair and junior athletes.

It also takes into account air temperature, radiant heat (the strength of the sun), humidity and wind speed, which can affect a player’s ability to disperse heat from their body.

A network of devices will measure the climate factors at points across the Melbourne Park site.

Under the updated policy, the Tournament Referee will allow a 10-minute break between the second and third sets in both women’s and junior singles matches and a 15-minute break in wheelchair singles matches when a four is recorded on the scale prior to or during the first two sets of the match.

In the men’s singles a 10-minute break will be allowed after the third set when a four is recorded on the scale prior to or during the first-three sets of the match.

If a five is recorded on the scale, the referee can suspend the start of matches on outside courts and all matches in progress continuing until the end of an even number of games in that set, or completion of the tiebreak, before play will be suspended.

Monfils said he had a “small heat-stroke” for 40 minutes of his second-round clash with Djokovic in January, played in temperatures approaching 40C, warning: “We took a risk.”

His opponent added: “I think there is a limit, and that is a level of tolerance between being fit and being in danger in terms of health. It was right at the limit.”

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Australian Open extends broadcast partnership with beIN Media Group until 2024

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(L to R) - Daniel Markham and Richard Heaselgrave.

Following the success of the 2018 edition of the Australian Open, Tennis Australia Chief Revenue Officer Richard Heaselgrave and beIN MEDIA GROUP’s Executive Director of Sports Content Daniel Markham have announced a long-term extension and expansion of their broadcast relationship through to 2024.

Along with extensive coverage of the Australian Open including juniors, wheelchairs and legends, the deal also includes lead-in tournaments, AO qualifying and the Laver Cup which will be broadcast in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

“beIN are delighted to continue our long-term relationship with Tennis Australia. Tennis is one of the central pillars of our premium sports content and today’s announcement cements beIN as the continuing long-term home of tennis in the Middle East and North Africa. The Australian Open is the perfect way to start the sporting year and we are very excited to bring this event to our audiences for the foreseeable future,” Daniel Markham said.

“The extension of our partnership with beIN MEDIA GROUP now includes the full eight weeks of the Australian summer of tennis, the brand new global event the Laver Cup, along with other quality original content throughout the year,” Richard Heaselgrave added.

He continued: “beIN’s commitment to their most comprehensive coverage of the Australian summer of tennis will allow our fans in the MENA region to follow the action right across Australia throughout December and January. With more channels, content and live feed capabilities, we will be able to tell a more compelling story that shows the power, passion and glory of tennis.”

In addition to producing all matches live from each tournament, Tennis Australia will also provide quality original programming content year round, including match highlights, player, tournament and city profiles, best-of, behind the scenes and more.

beIN will be working closely with Tennis Australia to produce extensive magazine and build up programming and daily studio coverage for the Australian Open, with all of the action available simultaneously in English and Arabic across beIN’s suite of linear channels as well as via the beIN Connect app and online services.

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