In the “not very surprising” department, the first two of the ATP Tour’s walking wounded have officially abandoned their quests to be healthy enough to compete in the first Grand Slam of the season.
First came Japanese star Kei Nishikori, who is recovering from a wrist issue. The 28-year-old had already pulled out of two planned warmup events.
Nishikori now is out of the Australian Open. He never even made the long trip Down Under.
Second up is Andy Murray, who has been trying so hard to be back on the court as he deals with what’s becoming a chronic hip injury.
Murray went to Abu Dhabi, even though he didn’t play in the exhibition there. He played a fun set against Roberto Bautista-Agut after Novak Djokovic pulled out. And he didn’t look very good.
The Brit then traveled to Brisbane, Australia to try to make his date there.
Murray played some practice sets against top opponents, but felt he wasn’t competitive enough, or pain-free enough, to play that event.
The rest of the crew – Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka – all former Australian Open champions – are still question marks.
(Also announced Friday in Australia was that defending women’s champion Serena Williams also won’t be on hand. For a very different reason, though).
Murray headed home to assess options
Now that he’s out of the Australian Open, as well, a long trip to Australia for naught, Murray will head back to Great Britain to assess his situation.
After diligently working on rehab to try to avoid hip surgery, the Brit intimated earlier this week that the surgery option can no longer be completely off the table.
And that’s a sad state of affairs.
Nishikori in Newport Beach
Nishikori has taken a wild card into the Newport Beach Challenger, one of two new events sponsored by Oracle (whose owner, Larry Ellison, owns the Indian Wells event).
It will be Nishikori’s first appearance at the Challenger level since he lost to Amer Delic in the second round of the Champaign Challenger in Nov. 2010.
That’s a huge boost for the inaugural edition of the event, which takes place the second week of the Australian Open.
For Nishikori, the appearance in a Challenger is a savvy move, assuming he has progressed as expected from the wrist issue. He, too, wanted nothing more than to avoid surgery. He has seen how so many talented players have struggled to return after being operated on their wrists.
This way, he will be able to ease back into tennis slowly, after being out since losing in the first round of the Rogers Cup in Montreal to Gaël Monfils in early August.
He also can return playing best-of-three sets, rather than the best-of-five Grand Slam format.
Tennis.Life also is told that Nishikori has accepted a wild card into the $125,000 Dallas Challenger the week after Newport Beach. If true, that’s even better. He also is scheduled to play the inaugural New York Open in mid-February.
Nadal in the house
On the positive side, Rafael Nadal has arrived in Melbourne.
The world No. 1 played just one match before withdrawing from the ATP Tour Finals in London in November, with his right knee giving him trouble again.
Before that, he had pulled out of the Basel tournament, and gave opponent Filip Krajinovic a walkover in the quarterfinals of the Paris Masters.
Nada withdrew from Abu Dhabi and from the Brisbane warmup event.
Along with Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, Nadal is scheduled to test out the knee in the Tie Break Tens exhibition next Wednesday in Margaret Court Arena.
He is arriving a good 10 days before the Australian Open starts.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 5, 2018
Where is Wawrinka? On the plane!
The Swiss No. 2 has been very low-profile on social media for a month. But he has been on Snapchat. And today’s posting was the best-news snap for his fans.
Wawrinka left Geneva for Abu Dhabi Thursday night. There’s a direct flight to Melbourne from there, leaving some three hours later, on Friday morning.
So it appears he will give it a go at the Tie Break Tens, and go from there.
Expectations, after knee surgery, with no matches and the best-of-five format, will no doubt be rock-bottom.
But with the loss of Murray and Nishikori, that’s at least two of the top guns who are at least going to try.
As for Milos Raonic, he lost his first match in Brisbane to young Australian wild card Alex de Minaur, 6-4, 6-4. But at least he’s back.
The former No. 1 withdrew from the Abu Dhabi exhibition when he experienced pain in his elbow during practice before his first match.
A day later, Djokovic pulled out of this week’s ATP Tour event in Doha.
He will be in Australia. Djokovic has signed on for Tie Break Tens event, as well as the Kooyong Classic that takes place a 10-minute drive away from Melbourne Park. It’s not known how many matches Djokovic will actually play there.
The Serb hasn’t played since retiring in the second set of his quarterfinal match at Wimbledon against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.