Australian Open '“ Concerns grow for Andy Murray ahead of Melbourne opener

ANDY MURRAY won only two games in a dispiriting practice match against Novak Djokovic that marked a setback to his Australian Open preparations.

STRUGGLING: Andy Murray runs to make a return to Serbia's Novak Djokovic during a practice match on Margaret Court Arena Picture: AP/Mark Baker

The former world 1 is playing at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2017 and a year on from hip surgery but looked laboured taking on his long-time rival under match conditions on Margaret Court Arena.

Trailing 6-1 4-1 and having held serve only once, Murray shook hands with Djokovic and his team to bring an end to the contest.

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The pair have met four times in finals at Melbourne Park, with Djokovic winning them all, but those memories made this all the harder to watch.

Having played only six tournaments in 2018 and spent large chunks of time focusing on rehabilitation and reconditioning, Murray had hoped to be in better shape for the new season.

He admitted on arrival in Australia that he was still feeling pain but tried to be cautiously optimistic despite losing in the second round of the Brisbane International to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.

There was very little to be positive about against Djokovic, however. Murray lost his first service game to love and failed to hold serve at all in the opening set, breaking Djokovic once at 3-0. The Serbian was not even playing at full intensity but Murray’s movement around the baseline was simply nowhere near good enough to enable him to go toe-to-toe in rallies like he used to.

The limp that has dogged him for 18 months became more pronounced during the second set, with the Scot grimacing at times. He finally held serve for the first time at 0-3 but, after losing the next game, shook hands with Djokovic.

STRUGGLING: Andy Murray appears to be in discomfort in his practice match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia at Melbourne Park yesterday. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images.

The performance raised question marks about whether Murray will even begin the tournament, with his tricky first-round opponent Roberto Bautista Agut known for being one of the most dogged baseline battlers on tour.

Eighteen-time grand slam singles champion Chris Evert fears for Murray’s future.

“Andy Murray has been one of the best champions as far as good hard work ethics out there,” she said. “I think what is hurting him - because to me, when I watch him, I feel pain - I feel like it’s not the same Andy as two or three years ago.

“I think he’ll know in the first three months of the year what his future plans are going to be. I think if he had a bigger serve, kept the rallies shorter, was more aggressive, I think that might make a difference. But his kind of game, it’s very much like Nadal, they’re grinders.

FRIENDLY SUPPORT: Novak Djokovic of Serbia talks with Andy Murray of Great Britain before their practice match ahead of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

“They have to work so hard to win a point. I think in the long run, that’s going to hurt him really as far as longevity is concerned.”