MELBOURNE, Australia/January 15, 2018 (AP)(STL.News) —Defending champion Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, with 11 Australian Open titles between them and 31 Grand Slam singles titles combined, take to the court at Melbourne Park under vastly different circumstances on Tuesday.
Federer, with five Australian and a leading 19 major titles overall, plays Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia to open night play at Rod Laver Arena. Last year, coming back after a six-month layoff to rest his injured left knee, Federer swept all before him for his first Grand Slam title since 2012.
Djokovic, who has won the Australian Open a record-equaling six times, is returning from a six-month layoff of his own after a right elbow injury kept him off the circuit since Wimbledon, where he lost in the quarterfinals. He plays Donald Young on Margaret Court Arena in an afternoon match.
Simona Halep, the top-seeded woman, will start her quest for a first Grand Slam title when she plays teenage wildcard entry Destanee Aiava.
Here’s a closer look at some of the featured matches Tuesday:
HIGHER EXPECTATIONS: Federer says he’s not 100 percent healthy, but didn’t look to have had any injury concerns when he and teammate Belinda Bencic won the Hopman Cup for Switzerland in Perth 10 days ago. “This year I hope to win the first few rounds and get rolling hopefully, whereas last year I was just … more of a ‘let’s see what happens’ kind of tournament, maybe similar to what Novak or Stan (Wawrinka) or others are going through this year,” Federer said. He has never played Bedene, a 28-year-old Slovenian who has lost five times in the first round at the Australian Open and has no ATP singles titles. Federer has 95.
HAPPY AT THE TOP: With Serena Williams off the tour following the birth of her daughter in September, the No. 1 ranking changed seven times last year, with five women assuming top spot — three for the first time. Halep had it at the end of the year, and her win at Shenzhen two weeks ago ensured she’d stay there for the Australian Open. She will have held the top ranking for 16 weeks by the time the tournament ends at Melbourne Park. “About the ranking … of course I want to stay here in the top as long as possible. But I have one more goal: to win a Grand Slam.” She’ll start her quest against Aiava, the 17-year-old Australian who had the distinction of being the first player born in this century to play in a main draw Grand Slam singles match when she lost in the first round here last year.
A SERVICE TWEAK: Djokovic has changed his service motion to help address the elbow issues he’s had to deal with in the past year. Djokovic explains: “There are three, four details that I’ve changed with my rotation, the elbow up, which is the most obvious one. I feel like I spend less energy but I’m more efficient.” Djokovic and Young first played in the first round at the U.S. Open in 2006, when the American won the first set before losing the next three. They didn’t meet again until last year on grass at Eastbourne, where Djokovic won in straight sets.
FLYING THE (MAPLE LEAF) FLAG: Canadians have back-to-back matches to start play on Show Court 2. Former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic, who has been ranked as high as No. 3, stopped his season in October because of calf and wrist issues, and is now seeded 22nd. He will face Lukas Lacko. Following that is Eugenie Bouchard‘s match against Oceane Dodin. Bouchard, who made it to the semifinals here and at the French Open in 2014 before losing the Wimbledon final, has had a fall from grace and is now ranked 112th from her career high of No. 5.
AND SOME OTHERS: Also in action Tuesday are: Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza (vs. wild-card entry Jessika Ponchet), No. 4 Alexander Zverev (vs. Thomas Fabbiano); 2014 Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka (vs. Richardas Berankis), 2016 champion and No. 12-seeded Angelique Kerber, who is on an a nine-match winning streak (vs. Anna-Lena Friedsam), last year’s U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys (vs. Wang Qiang); and Maria Sharapova, returning to the Australian Open for the first time since returning from a suspension following a positive test to meldonium at Melbourne Park in 2016 (vs. Tatjana Maria of Germany).