MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Roger Federer takes the spotlight on his return to grand slam tennis on the opening day of the Australian Open today but those looking for title contenders might be wise to cast their gaze elsewhere.
Seeded 17th after six months away from the sport nursing a knee injury, Federer’s first round match against Austrian qualifier Juergen Melzer has nevertheless been awarded the prime spot of the final match on Rod Laver Arena.
The 35-year-old won the last of his four titles at Melbourne Park in 2010 and half a year out of the game combined with the tricky draw that comes with the lowly ranking, makes a fifth crown a bit of a long shot, even for the Swiss Master.
Andy Murray embarks on his first grand slam campaign as world number one with much stronger title credentials, even if he has lost five finals at Melbourne Park, four of them to the man he usurped in the rankings, Novak Djokovic.
The British top seed takes on Ilya Marchenko in the last match of the afternoon session on Rod Laver Arena and will have to contend with temperatures in excess of 30 degrees Celsius as well as the Ukrainian.
Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, also begins his quest for a third grand slam crown, against Slovakia’s Martin Klizan, while Japan’s fifth seed Kei Nishikori renews his crusade to give Asia its first men’s champion against Andrey Kuznetsov.
Women’s top seed Angelique Kerber opens the night session on the main showcourt as she begins her a first grand slam title defence against Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko, who pulled out of a warm-up tournament in Hobart last week with a virus.