MELBOURNE, Australia, Jan 15 – Andy Murray sets out Monday to end a record run of Australian Open final defeats as his great rival Novak Djokovic vies to become the tournament’s greatest champion of all-time.
World number one Murray is looking to avoid becoming the first man in the post-1968 Open era to lose six Grand Slam finals at the same major.
His coach Ivan Lendl lost five finals at the US Open before he broke through in New York in 1985.
Murray, who opens his campaign with a match against Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko on Rod Laver Arena, says he’s in a better position this time to finally break through for his maiden Australian Open.
“I obviously feel pretty confident after the way the last season finished,” Murray said.
“I do love it here. I love the conditions. I have played really well here over the years, and I just haven’t managed to get over the final hurdle.
“But I think I’m in a decent position to do it. I think I have a chance to win here.”
Murray is coming off a magnificent 2016 which included a second Wimbledon crown, a successful Olympic title defence and knocking Djokovic off the top spot to become world number one for the first time.
Murray is drawn to meet Japanese fifth seed Nishikori or Swiss legend Roger Federer in the quarters and 2014 winner Wawrinka in the semis.
He has Lendl back in his team and is conscious he has to keep improving to keep his rivals at bay to hold on to the world’s top ranking.
– Six of the best –
“The reality is, in sport, that things keep moving on, the game will get better. I’ll obviously get older, the young guys will continue to improve, and also Novak and Roger (Federer) and Stan (Wawrinka) and Rafa (Nadal) and all the guys at the top are still going to be wanting to get there,” he said.
“So that’s why having someone like Ivan on my team who has been in that position before and knows what that’s like has been important.
“I need to continue to improve. I need to keep working hard.”
Murray knows that Djokovic will be gunning for him in the year’s first Grand Slam where he has a fantastic record of six finals and six victories going back to 2008.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion can take outright ownership of the record for Australian titles if he wins for a seventh time in Melbourne.
The Serb is currently tied with Australia’s Roy Emerson on six Australian titles.
“One of the reasons I’m here is to try to win every match that I play, and eventually the title,” Djokovic said.
Djokovic faces a potential banana-skin in the first round against experienced Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
Verdasco, ranked 40, has beaten Djokovic four times in their 13 encounters and the Serb had to save five match points in beating him earlier this month in the semi-finals in Doha.
Last year, Verdasco knocked out compatriot Rafael Nadal in a five-setter first round thriller in Melbourne.
Should Djokovic get off to a winning start he is seeded to face Brisbane International winner Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round, powerful Austrian eighth seed Dominic Thiem in the quarters and Canada’s big-serving third seed Milos Raonic in the semi-finals.
Outside the top two, the main hopes rest with reigning US Open champion Stan Wawrinka, who won in Melbourne in 2014, Raonic and Japanese hope Kei Nishikori.
Grand Slam warriors Federer and Nadal should also be in the mix, but they lack match time and their rankings have slipped.
Seventeen-time Grand Slam great Federer, who at 17 is out of the top 10 for the first time since late 2002, is easing his way back after six months out with a knee injury, while 14-time Grand Slam winner Nadal is coming off another injury-hit season.