Andy Murray’s farewell tour will see Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic bolster defences
Andy Murray’s pending retirement will only spur the remaining old guard on further at the Australian Open, writes Michael Hincks.
- Federer ‘shocked’, Djokovic ‘hurt’ by Murray’s looming retirement
- Big boys DO cry: Why women's sport will miss Andy Murray
The glowing tributes and columns have been, quite rightly, plentiful, but it is not quite the end of the road for Murray, as an Australian Open date with Roberto Bautista Agut awaits. It could well be his final match, but the chances of him being wrapped up in cotton wool until Wimbledon means it may not goodbye quite yet.
And as the Briton begins his farewell tour, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have all given their sentiments on Murray, with the news of their old adversary calling time on his career serving each of them a reminder of their own tennis mortality.
“We're going to lose everybody at some point. It's just now that it's definite,” said Federer.
“We are not 20 any more. Our generation, everyone is more than 30 - these kind of things happen,” said Nadal.
“I see how much pain he has and what he’s going through. That’s the part I don’t like – all our careers must have an end,” said Djokovic.
It would be wrong to call Murray’s news a boost for the aforementioned trio, but in some ways – as seen by their comments – it will have spurred them on.
With the retirement talk dominating the build-up to the Australian Open, it is easy to forget there is a Grand Slam title on the line.
And when Murray makes his seemingly inevitable exit in the first week at Melbourne – unless there’s a shock of Peter Colt proportions – the attention in the men’s singles will once more switch back to what we’re accustomed to; and once more the usual suspects are at the front of the queue.
Year after year the old guard has fended off the next generation. Jelena Ostapenko, Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens have all stamped their authority in the women’s game with Grand Slam victories, but still, the wait goes on in the men’s.
There will come a time when a pretender to the throne takes the crown, but current world number one Djokovic will be in no mood to let go; defeat to Bautista Agut in last week’s Qatar Open, and to Alexander Zverev and Karen Khachanov in last year’s London and Paris finals, will have hurt the Serb, and he will be out to prove that over five sets, he remains the man to beat.
Meanwhile, the evergreen Federer has shown already in this year’s Hopman Cup that not only is retirement some way off – barring a serious injury of course – but that he is still capable of producing the same level of age-defying tennis that delivered him a unforeseen win in Melbourne two years ago.
Nadal remains the biggest question mark of the three, having not played competitively since the US Open, but the Spaniard has a favourable draw at the Australian Open. There is every chance he could face an Australian in each of the first three rounds, but with Kevin Anderson standing as his biggest obstacle – quite literally – when looking at his quarter of the draw, there are few scarier prospects in tennis than facing a Nadal with the wind in his sails.
For now, on the eve of the competition, it is all speculation. Zverev will be out to follow up on his ATP Finals victory, but you need only look at the ATP world rankings – and the odds – to be reminded of who the players to beat are.
As ever, it is down to the next generation to topple this monopoly, but the old guard will not go quietly, even if one member is soon to depart.