Last Updated: 09/01/19 4:25pm
Six British players are due to contest the singles events as the Grand Slam tennis season kicks off in Australia.
Andy Murray makes his return to Melbourne after missing last year’s tournament while Katie Boulter has secured direct entry to a major for the first time.
Here, we look at the British hopefuls.
The former world No 1 hoped his tentative steps in 2018 would pave the way for a full return this season. Twelve months after hip surgery, it remains to be seen whether Murray will ever return to peak fitness, and his appearance in Brisbane last week was not particularly encouraging, with the 31-year-old’s movement still a major concern. Winning the Australian Open after reaching the final five times is top of the list of things Murray wants to achieve in the final years of his career but taking steps forward remains the current priority, and a kind draw would be a major bonus.
What a difference a year makes. Edmund arrived in Melbourne last January ranked just inside the top 50 and with few people talking about him as a potential challenger for the biggest titles. He left Melbourne Park as a Grand Slam semi-finalist. Just as importantly, the 24-year-old followed up that run with a fine season overall, including winning his first ATP Tour title in Antwerp. He must deal with the pressure of defending a huge amount of ranking points, while a knee injury that saw him pull out of this week’s tournament in Sydney is a concern.
Another man looking to build on a fine 2018. Norrie’s rapid strides carried him into the top 100 a little over a year after he turned professional and this tournament will see the 23-year-old gain direct entry into a fourth successive Grand Slam. The fast-learning left-hander still has plenty of room for improvement in his game and will look to push towards the top 50 in 2019. He began the season with impressive wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas and Frances Tiafoe at the Hopman Cup.
After the difficulties of last year, 2019 presents new opportunities for Konta. Flashes of her form of 2016 and 2017 were evident last season but there was far too much inconsistency and a lack of belief in her game. The 27-year-old begins the new term with a new coach, Stan Wawrinka’s former mentor Dimitri Zavialoff, after splitting from Michael Joyce. Australian-born Konta has fond memories of Melbourne Park having reached the semi-finals three years ago and the last eight in 2017.
Like Konta, Watson endured a difficult 2018, dropping out of the top 100 over the summer before climbing back in at the end of the season. That means, unlike at the US Open, she will not have to go through qualifying. The 26-year-old has been searching for the right balance on and off the court and consistency remains a problem. This will be Watson’s eighth straight appearance in Melbourne. Her best run was a third-round showing in 2013.
While Konta and Watson disappointed, 2018 saw a host of young British women make leaps forward, none more significant than 22-year-old Boulter. Tall with a big serve and forehand, Boulter, from Leicestershire, is hugely ambitious and made the breakthrough into the top 100 in October having started the season at 199. She won her first Grand Slam match at Wimbledon last summer and will make her slam debut outside of the All England Club.