Federer opens Australian title defence as Murray hobbles into action

Melbourne (AFP)

Roger Federer and Caroline Wozniacki open their Australian Open title defences Monday as Andy Murray takes to the court for what could be his farewell match at Melbourne Park and potentially his last ever.

The Swiss maestro has won the last two Australian Opens and his gunning for a record seventh crown and 21st Grand Slam title.

He starts his campaign on day one against Denis Istomin on Rod Laver Arena — the Uzbek who caused a massive upset two years ago when he knocked out Novak Djokovic in the second round.

“I’m playing good tennis. I’m confident that I think it needs a good performance by my opponent probably to beat me,” said Federer, the third seed.

World number one Djokovic starts his tournament on Tuesday.

Scottish former world number one Murray tearfully revealed last week that severe pain from a hip injury was proving too much to bear and he planned to retire this year.

He said he would like to finish his career at Wimbledon, but admitted the Australian Open could be his last tournament.

Spain’s 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut is the man who could draw the curtain on Murray’s time in Melbourne, where he has been a five-time finalist.

“I can still play, but not to a level I’m happy playing at,” said Murray ahead of his evening clash in Melbourne Arena on a day when temperatures are forecast to soar to 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit).

“The pain is too much really.”

Federer is six years older than Murray at 37, but has so far avoided the type of injuries that have hampered players much younger.

Second seed Rafael Nadal, another who has struggled with injuries, is also in action against Australian James Duckworth.

The Spanish 17-time Grand Slam champion is returning after surgery on a troublesome foot injury, but insists he is recovered and raring to go.

“I feel good. If I am not feeling good, I will not be here,” he said ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year.

Denmark’s Wozniacki broke through for her first Slam title in Melbourne last year, beating Simona Halep in the final, and said she was relishing defending a major for the first time.

“I’m just excited. I think it’s a positive to be here as the defending champion. I’m just taking it as a nice, fun challenge,” she said with Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck her first opponent.

Second seed Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion, has an opening match against Slovakia’s Polona Hercog, while Petra Kvitova, fresh from winning the Sydney International on Saturday, plays Magdalena Rybarikova.

American fifth seed Sloane Stephens and five-time major winner Maria Sharapova are also in action.