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Seventh heaven beckons for Federer, Djokovic at Open as Murray bows out

AFP  |  Melbourne 

and are both gunning for a record seventh crown from Monday, but will make his last appearance in as the era of the "Big Four" draws to a close.

Number one Djokovic and third seed Federer face a stern challenge from the likes of youthful force Alexander Zverev, seeded four, who is still looking for a first to cement his place as torch-bearer for the next generation.

But Murray dropped a pre-Grand Slam bombshell, breaking down during a tear-filled press conference as he revealed means he will retire after -- if he can carry on that long.

And question marks remain over the fitness of world number two who pulled out of his warm-up but arrived in professing he was "fully fit" and promising to unleash a remodelled serve.

It all means the era of the "Big Four" is almost over after a season in which Federer -- who opens his title defence against on Monday -- rolled back the years on to lift an emotional 20th Grand Slam.

It put him on a par with other six-time winners Djokovic and -- although the Australian great's victories all came before the Open era.

By contrast, the 31-year-old Djokovic endured a miserable early exit in 2018, followed by and a string of disappointing results that saw him drop outside the top 20.

But since winning a fourth in July, the Serb rose inexorably back to number one by losing only three further matches -- one of which was to Zverev at the ATP Finals.

Djokovic won his third in September to put him on 14 Grand Slams -- three behind Nadal and six behind Federer.

And Djokovic said Sunday he was delighted to be back in Melbourne where his rise to greatness all began in 2008 with his first Grand Slam win.

"It was my first trophy, that obviously served as a great springboard for my career," Djokovic said as he prepared to open his assault on a seventh crown against American on Tuesday.

"It opened a lot of doors for me. It allowed me to believe in myself that I can actually win the biggest tournaments in the world, challenge the best players in the world." - Nadal 'feels good' -

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Federer, now 37, remains the chief threat to the Serb and he sounded a warning Sunday.

"I'm playing good I'm confident that I think it needs a good performance by my opponent probably to beat me," said the Swiss master, who warmed for Melbourne with victory in Perth's

Second-ranked Nadal, 32, pulled out of with a although he returned for an exhibition in and insisted at the weekend his fitness woes were behind him.

"I feel good. If I am not feeling good, I will not be here," he said before revealing he had remodelled his serve.

"There are always things to improve," said the Spaniard, who faces Australian wildcard on Monday.

Djokovic picked young guns Zverev of Germany, of Croatia, of and Greece's Stefano Tsitsipas as key threats to the top three.

"It's just a matter of time when we will see some of them competing in the last stages of Grand Slams," said Djokovic.

Zverev, 21, starts the full of confidence after an impressive warm-up to reach the final of Perth's mixed teams Hopman Cup, despite his terrible record at Grand Slams.

He has never got beyond the third round in Melbourne and faces Slovenia's in his opener on Tuesday.

Last year, seeded four, he crashed out in the last 32 to South Korea's and has only reached one quarter-final in 14 appearances.

Home fans will look to new champion and 27th seed Alex de Minaur, who faces Portugal's on Monday, and the temperamental

Kyrgios has a tough opening match against former world number three and then a possible clash with former Australian Open champion in round two.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sun, January 13 2019. 12:30 IST
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