Andy Murray of Great Britain in a training session at Crown Entertainment Complex in Melbourne. Photo: Robert Prezioso Venus Williams, during a practice session, is likely to find herself among the top eight seeded women in the women’s draw. Photo: Michael Dodge
With the world’s top tennis players now checking in to city hotels, the tennis-loving public gets its chance to check out their racquet-wielding heroes’ form ahead of the n Open which starts on January 18.
Among those already checked in and warming up for the forecast hot conditions are Czech Tomas Berdych, Spaniard Feliciano Lopez and American sisters Venus and Serena Williams.
Venus, who was on court at Melbourne Park on Monday, is likely to find herself among the top eight seeded women in the women’s draw after number nine ranked Lucie Safarova pulled out of the Open with a bacterial infection.
Looking in ominous form, Scottish world number two Andy Murray had a hit-out with a view on one of Crown’s tennis courts before crossing the Yarra to test out the surface at Rod Laver Arena on Monday afternoon.
Coached by Amelie Mauresmo, the four-time n Open runner up has already said he wouldn’t hesitate to leave if wife Kim Sears went into labour early with the couple’s first child, due in February.
Taking to Rod Laver Arena ahead of Andy Murray on Monday was Asia’s top-ranking male player, Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
Despite the background noise of drilling as workers prepared the stadium’s lighting and overhead screens, the world number eight practised with n Rameez Junaid.
While most of the top players travel with a hitting partner, some also like to tailor their practice sessions by pairing up with particular types of players – be it a left hander, a baseliner or a big server. The pairings are courtesy of staff at the tournament’s player services desk, who handle requests in the lead-up to the tournament and during the fortnight of competition.
While Melbourne-based Junaid is better known as a doubles player and is currently ranked in the top 100 in doubles, the 34-year-old kept up with Nishikori, with both men keenly watched by their respective coaches.
Meanwhile, the patient fans who waited at Melbourne airport on Sunday night to welcome world number one and defending n Open champion Novak Djokovic to town were rewarded with selfies and autographs from the popular Serb, who has already racked up a win in 2016 after taking out the Qatar Open.
That title, his 60th overall at tour-level, places the 28-year-old in elite company as he becomes just the 10th player in the Open Era to reach the milestone.
Two-time n Open champion Victoria Azarenka announced her arrival on Twitter on Monday, fresh from her victory over Germany’s Angelique Kerber at the Brisbane International. Now ranked 16, the win marked her first title in two years and given the injury sweeping the upper echelons of women’s tennis Azarenka is up there with Serena Williams as a contender for the 2016 title.
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