Andy Murray failed to complete a practice match against Novak Djokovic in a setback to his Australian Open preparations.
The former world number one is playing at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2017 and a year on from hip surgery but looked laboured taking on his long-time rival under match conditions on Margaret Court Arena.
Trailing 6-1 4-1 and having held serve only once, Murray shook hands with Djokovic and his team to bring an end to the contest.
The pair have met four times in finals at Melbourne Park, with Djokovic winning them all, but those memories made this all the more dispiriting.
Having played only six tournaments in 2018 and spent large chunks of time focusing on rehabilitation and reconditioning, Murray had hoped to be in better shape for the new season.
He admitted on arrival in Australia that he was still feeling pain but tried to be cautiously optimistic despite losing in the second round of the Brisbane International to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.
There was very little to be positive about against Djokovic, however. Murray lost his first service game to love and failed to hold serve at all in the opening set, breaking Djokovic once at 3-0.
The Serbian was not even playing at full intensity but Murray’s movement around the baseline was simply nowhere near good enough to enable him to go toe-to-toe in rallies like he used to.
The limp that has dogged him for 18 months became more pronounced during the second set, with the Scot grimacing at times.
He finally held serve for the first time at 0-3 but, after losing the next game, shook hands with Djokovic before sitting in animated discussion with his team for several minutes at the side of the court.
The performance raised question marks about whether Murray will even begin the tournament, with the draw taking place on Thursday evening.
Provided by Press Association Sport
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
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?
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.
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
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?
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.
“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.
#AusOpen is taking a cool approach to warm weather in 2019:— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) 29 December 2018
❄️ 12-metre water slide and misting tunnel
❄️ free samples of sunscreen
❄️ air conditioned film festival
❄️ expanded Extreme Heat Policy for players
More: https://t.co/a4omfHoiUb pic.twitter.com/CAmpzeOcTQ
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.”