MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Having snatched Novak Djokovic’s world No. 1 ranking in a thrilling late-season raid, Andy Murray will bid to storm the Serb’s Melbourne Park fortress and capture an elusive Australian Open title after five agonizing near misses.
Murray enters the year’s first Grand Slam in unknown territory, rated as top seed for the first time in his 12th campaign and with a ‘Sir’ in front of his name as the recipient of a knighthood from Britain’s New Year’s honors list.
The Scot also brings the knowledge that 10 years of hard graft to reach the summit of the men’s game could end in a heartbeat if defending champion Djokovic has his way.
“I’d say Novak Djokovic is still the biggest threat to the No. 1 ranking,” Murray said in Doha where he kicked off his season.
“His record in Australia is incredible. He has won it six times and won a number of finals against me too so I’m expecting him to play very well there.”
Few players know how heavy lies the crown as fellow 29-year-old Djokovic, who spoke of hungrier wolves snapping at his heels after his defeat over Murray last year, his fourth in a Melbourne Park final between the pair.
Long the alpha male of the pack, Djokovic completed his sweep of Grand Slam titles at last year’s French Open then fell away dramatically in the second half of the season.
Only last week, however, Djokovic fired an ominous warning to Murray by snapping his 28-match winning streak in a fiery three-set final to defend his Qatar Open title.
Djokovic joined Roy Emerson as the most successful men’s champion at the Australian Open last year and can take sole possession of the record with a seventh crown, having won in 2008, 2011-13 and 2015-16.
Murray is saddled with a less enviable record, having become only the second man in the professional era to lose five finals at a single Grand Slam when defeated last year.