Murray fit for title defense

Murray fit for title defense

Staff clean at Wimbledon tennis club in southwest London Saturday. — AFP

LONDON — Andy Murray insisted he is fit enough to start the defense of his Wimbledon title Monday despite his recent struggles with a hip injury.

[caption id="attachment_155395" align="alignright" width="300"]Great Britain’s Andy Murray speaks during a press conference in London Sunday. — Reuters Great Britain’s Andy Murray speaks during a press conference in London Sunday. — Reuters[/caption]

Murray sparked concerns he might have to withdraw from Wimbledon after cancelling two scheduled exhibition matches this week due to his sore hip.

The world No. 1 was seen limping while practicing at Wimbledon over the weekend, but he is convinced he can make it through two weeks of the grass court Grand Slam.

“I’ll be fine to play the event and play seven matches,” Murray told reporters at Wimbledon Sunday.

Murray, a two-time Wimbledon champion, will play the first match on Centre Court Monday against Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik.

That will be a huge lift for Murray, who admitted he had been worried the hip pain wouldn’t ease off in time for Wimbledon.

“You never know. I haven’t been in that sort of position too often, only a few days before a Slam and not felt good at all,” he said.

“Obviously this is an extremely important tournament, so you worry a little bit. It’s a little bit stressful if you can’t practice for a few days.”

Twelve months after shutting down his season in the wake of a devastating semifinal defeat, Roger Federer returns to Wimbledon as favorite to capture a record-breaking eighth title and become the tournament’s oldest champion.

The evergreen Swiss, who turns 36 in August, has stunned the critics who wrote him off as yesterday’s man when he went down to Milos Raonic in five grueling sets on Centre Court in 2016.

The loss forced him off tour for the remainder of the year to rest a knee injury, leaving his Grand Slam title count on 17 where it had been since 2012.

Fast forward a year and Federer is poised to break the tie for seven Wimbledon titles he shares with Pete Sampras and take his career tally at the majors to 19.

With eternal rivals Murray and Novak Djokovic in slumps of varying degrees, and Rafael Nadal fretting over whether or not his knees will bear the stress of grass courts, it is Federer once again in the box seat.

Federer, who captured a fifth Australian Open in January, will go into Wimbledon buoyed by a ninth title on the grass of Halle and refreshed by skipping the claycourt season.

For tennis storylines of 2017, Federer shares top billing with Nadal after the Spaniard defied the doubters to win a 10th French Open.

That took him to 15 Grand Slam titles, one ahead of Sampras and just three behind Federer.

Djokovic, the three-time Wimbledon champion, warmed up by claiming a morale-boosting title triumph at Eastbourne Saturday, his first trophy since Doha in January.

Djokovic faces fiery Slovakian Martin Klizan in the first round with a potential third round blockbuster against Juan Martin del Potro.

With Serena Williams preparing for the birth of her first child and Maria Sharapova sidelined by a thigh injury, the race to be crowned Wimbledon champion is the most wide-open in a generation.

Having stepped away from the court as she waits to become a mother in September, Williams, who won Wimbledon in 2015 and 2016, has created a power vacuum at the top that Sharapova was expected to fill when the Russian returned from her doping suspension.

Instead, Sharapova lasted just three tournaments before a muscle injury in Rome forced the five-time major winner to withdraw from the Wimbledon qualifying tournament.

In the absence of American great Williams, who has 23 Grand Slam titles on her CV, and the headline-grabbing Sharapova, women’s tennis has an undeniable lack of star power heading into Wimbledon.

But the flip-side is the opportunity for the sport’s less heralded names to seize the spotlight, as Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko showed with her unexpected breakthrough triumph at the French Open.

A junior Wimbledon champion in 2014, Ostapenko’s game is well suited for the low-bouncing lawns of the All England Club, now that she has learned to enjoy a surface she once thought was only “for soccer”.

While Ostapenko, who faces Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round, arrived in London on a wave of post-Paris euphoria, second seed Simona Halep is still struggling to come to terms with her failure to win her first Grand Slam.

Kerber, who starts against Irina Falconi, needs to improve dramatically after making unwanted history when her defeat against Ekaterina Makarova made her the first top-ranked woman in the Open era to fall in the opening round at Roland Garros.

If Petra Kvitova gets her hands on the Venus Rosewater Dish for a third time, it would complete a fairytale comeback for the Czech following the horrific hand injury she sustained while being attacked by a knife-wielding burglar in her home in December.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka is back in action after taking a year off to become a mother.

“My life has taken a 180-degree turn but I have not lost my competitive spirit,” Azarenka said. — Agencies