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Australian Open preview

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer witnessed Andy Murray's drought-breaking successes after he hired Ivan Lendl as coach, and they decided they were due for an overhaul of a major kind. Both took on past Grand Slam champions ahead of this week's Australian Open, with Djokovic recruiting Boris Becker to help him try to win a fourth straight title in Melbourne and Federer working out a part-time deal with Stefan Edberg. "It's great to see other legends of the sport coming back and trying to help the active tennis players during their careers," Djokovic said at Friday's draw. Federer said he would like to see even more tennis greats bringing their experience back to the tour.

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Murray stuck with the eight-time major winner Lendl, a partnership that has so far yielded titles at the U.S. Open and Olympics in 2012, and at Wimbledon last year.

The No. 1-ranked players haven't yet followed the trend for celebrity coaches, though.

Rafael Nadal tried some new therapies on his knees in the offseason but otherwise has an unchanged team led by his uncle Toni, who has guided his career since childhood. It was good enough to win 10 titles last year and regain the No. 1 ranking after a seven-month absence from the tour.

Serena Williams sought a little bit of extra guidance from a tried and trusted source closer to home this time around, spending time in the offseason with her father, Richard, in Florida to fine-tune parts of her game.

"My dad has always been, for me, my greatest coach and the best coach ever," Williams said. "He knows when to step back. He knows when to say, 'Yeah.' He knows when to be like, 'Okay, this girl is nuts — I'm not going to say anything right now!' "

Even in Brisbane, where she had back-to-back wins over Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, two of her biggest rivals, Williams was getting pointers long-distance from Dad.

"He knew what I needed to do," she said. "He's like 'Serena, you're not doing A, B, and C. This isn't what we worked on.' "

She won't get a chance to play Sharapova and Azarenka back-to-back in Melbourne because both are on opposite sides of the draw.

"It was a great test. It showed me where my level was," she said. "I'm happy I was able to play both Maria and Victoria, because they brought their A games against me.

"I know now what I need to do for Melbourne."

Fast facts

• Watch the weather. It can be intensely hot one day, cool and wet the next. The tournament's Extreme Heat Policy gets invoked most years, meaning matches can be moved indoors, or suspended or prolonged by extra breaks for the players. To combat the weather, two arenas have retractable roofs and a third is under construction.

• The prize money has been increased by $2.8 million to $31M overall, third among the Grand Slams behind Wimbledon ($36.5M) and the U.S. Open ($34.3M) and ahead of the French Open ($29.7M). The singles champions in Australia will receive $2.35M.

Serene Williams comes to Melbourne on a 22-match winning streak after winning 11 titles last year, the most by a player on the WTA Tour since Martina Hingis' 12 in 1997.

Roger Federer, a 17-time major winner, failed to reach a Grand Slam final last year for the first time since 2002.

• Among those missing this year will be Bernard Tomic's father, John. Tomic Sr. was suspended from Grand Slam events after his conviction for assaulting his son's hitting partner, Thomas Drouet.

Dynamic dozen: Top players to watch

MEN

Rafael Nadal

Seeded: 1Age: 27

Country: Spain

2013 match record: 75-7

2013 singles titles: 10

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-DNP, '12-F, '11-QF, '10-QF, '09-W

Note: After missing the last Australian Open during a seven-month absence from the tour because of knee injuries and illness, he returned to win 10 titles, including the French Open and U.S. Open, and reach 14 finals.

Novak Djokovic

Seeded: 2Age: 26

Country: Serbia

2013 match record: 74-9

2013 singles titles: 7

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-W, '12-W, '11-W, '10-QF, '09-QF

Note: He has reached the final in all but three of the last 13 Grand Slam tournaments and has spent a total of 101 weeks at No. 1.

David Ferrer

Seeded: 3Age: 31

Country: Spain

2013 match record: 60-24

2013 singles titles: 2

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-SF, '12-QF, '11-SF, '10-2R, '09-3R

Note: He reached a career-high nine finals, winning the first two and then losing his next seven. He finished the year in the top five for the third straight season.

Andy Murray

Seeded: 4Age: 26

Country: Britain

2013 match record: 43-8

2013 singles titles: 4

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-F, '12-SF, '11-F, '10-F, '09-4R

Note: He has reached three of the past four Australian Open finals but has yet to claim the title.

Juan Martin del Potro

Seeded: 5Age: 25

Country: Argentina

2013 match record: 51-16

2013 singles titles: 4

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-3R, '12-QF, '11-2R, '10-4R, '09-QF

Note: After health issues sidetracked him, he rallied to make the yearend top five for the first time since 2009.

Roger Federer

Seeded: 6Age: 32

Country: Switzerland

2013 match record: 45-17

2013 singles titles: 1

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-SF, '12-SF, '11-SF, '10-W, '09-F

Note: Record streak of reaching at least the quarterfinals at 36 consecutive major tournaments ended at Wimbledon with a second-round exit.

WOMEN

Serena Williams

Seed: 1Age: 32

Country: United States

2013 match record: 78-4

2013 singles titles: 11

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-QF, '12-4R, '11-DNP, '10-W, '09-W

Note: How to improve on 2013 might be her biggest problem. She compiled a 34-match winning streak and earned more than $12 million in prize money, a record for women's tennis.

Victoria Azarenka

Seeded: 2Age: 24

Country: Belarus

2013 match record: 43-9

2013 singles titles: 3

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-W, '12-W, '11-4R, '10-QF, '09-4R

Note: Back to the scene of her only two Grand Slam titles, including a win last year over Li Na in the final.

Li Na

Seeded: 3Age: 31

Country: China

2013 match record: 44-14

2013 singles titles: 1

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-F, '12-4R, '11-F, '10-SF, '09-DNP

Note: Li has twice lost the final at Rod Laver Arena, last year to Victoria Azarenka and two years earlier to Kim Clijsters.

Maria Sharapova

Seeded: 4Age: 26

Country: Russia

2013 match record: 37-7

2013 singles titles: 2

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-SF, '12-F, '11-4R, '10-1R, '09-DNP

Note: She went 36-5 in the first half last year, winning two WTA titles at Indian Wells and Stuttgart before illness and injury kept her sidelined for most of the last half of 2013.

Caroline Wozniacki

Seeded: 10Age: 23

Country: Denmark

2013 match record: 39-22

2013 singles titles: 1

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-4R, '12-QF, '11-SF, '10-4R, '09-3R

Note: Perhaps the best player on the WTA Tour never to have won a Grand Slam. She starts this year with good news off the court, she's engaged to golfer Rory McIlroy.

Sloane Stephens

Seeded: 13Age: 20

Country: United States

2013 match record: 29-23

2013 singles titles: 0

Last 5 Australian Opens: 2013-SF, '12-2R, '11-DNP, '10-DNP, '09-DNP

Note: A player beyond her years and experience at Grand Slam tournaments, went 15-4 in majors last year, including a quarterfinal win at Melbourne Park over Serena Williams before losing in the semifinals to Victoria Azarenka.

Australian Open

When: Tonight (U.S. time) through Sunday, Jan. 19

TV: ESPN, ESPN2, Tennis Channel

Prize money: $31 million

Web site: ausopen.com

The field: 128 men's and women's singles; 64 men's and women's doubles teams; 32 mixed doubles teams.

Court surface: Trademarked as "Australian Open True Blue," the courts are two-toned, allowing for greater contrast and improved depth perception.

Balls: Wilson supplies more than 4000 dozen tennis balls for use during the tournament. Six new balls are used for the five-minute warm-up and the first seven games and six new balls are provided every nine games thereafter. Used balls are sold on site.



Tournament facts

When: Tonight (U.S. time) through Jan. 26

TV: ESPN, ESPN2, Tennis Channel

Prize money: $31 million

Website: ausopen.com

The field: 128 men's and women's singles; 64 men's and women's doubles teams; 32 mixed doubles teams

Court surface: Trademarked as "Australian Open True Blue," the courts are two-toned, allowing for greater contrast and improved depth perception.

Balls: Wilson supplies more than 4,000 dozen balls for use during the tournament. Six new balls are used for the five-minute warmup and the first seven games, and six new balls are provided every nine games thereafter. Used balls are sold on site.

Australian Open preview 01/11/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 11, 2014 9:39pm]
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