Two years after Andy Murray tearfully admitted the 2019 Australian Open might be his last tournament, the five-time runner-up will return to Melbourne Park after receiving a wildcard for next year's Open.
On the eve of the 2019 Open, Murray broke down as he described his struggles to play through the pain of a chronic, crippling hip injury, which had pushed him to the verge of retirement. He mounted a comeback later that year but withdrew from this year's Australian Open.
A jubilant Andy Murray at this year’s US Open.Credit:AP
Now aged 33 and ranked world No.122, Murray continues his campaign to again be a force in men's tennis. He won an ATP event last year and in a season impacted by COVID-19, the Scot beat top-tenner Alexander Zverev in a US Open lead-up event.
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley was rapt to offer Murray a main draw spot. "We welcome Andy back to Melbourne with open arms. He has been an integral part of so many amazing matches and storylines."
Another player curtailed by injury and illness in recent years, Australia's Thanasi Kokkinakis, is also one of eight freshly-announced wildcards.
Without the benefit of an wildcard playoff event this year to help finalise selection, Tennis Australia have allocated seven of the eight wildcard spots in the men's and women's main draws for the rescheduled major, which starts on February 8.
Thanasi Kokkinakis pulled out of the 2019 Australian Open after suffering soreness.Credit:Eddie Jim
Alongside Kokkinakis, the Australian contingent announced on Sunday includes Alex Bolt, Aleksander Vukic, Destanee Aiava and Arina Rodionova.
The tournament has continued allocating Asia-Pacific wildcards – this year going to India's Sumit Nagal, the men's world No.136, and China's Wang Xiyu, a teenager ranked at 123.
Former world No.1 Murray will begin his new year at the season-opening event in Florida, where he has also received a main draw wildcard.
Murray last reached the final in Melbourne in 2016 and, in a sign of his success down under without quite winning a title, sits in fifth spot for the most Australian Open matches won in the Open Era (48).
For Kokkinakis, he's grateful for his discretionary spot after missing this year's Open due to glandular fever.
"I'm super happy and thankful to have gotten a wildcard," said Kokkinakis, who hasn't played an officially sanctioned match since September last year due to his illness and the impact of coronavirus on the tours.
"Shattered I couldn't play this year due to illness but I'm feeling great now."
Australians Christopher O'Connell, Marc Polmans, Daria Gavrilova, Astra Sharma, Lizette Cabrera and Maddison Inglis have already had their wildcards announced.
Tennis Australia performance director Wally Masur said in picking this year's wildcards, they leaned more heavily on rankings than in previous years.
“It’s been a difficult year in so many ways, all our players have had a truncated season and we’ve not had the usual flow of results and changes in rankings we’d usually see,” Masur said.
“We’ve been lucky to run UTR events for our players across most of the year so they’ve had the opportunity to compete, and have a body of matches under their belt. And many of these players have fronted up, competed professionally and achieved good results.
“In terms of making what are always difficult decisions on wildcards, we’ve stuck a little closer to the rankings than we may have done in the past. We had a lot of players who were just outside the cut-off, and as they were on the cusp, they deserve a wildcard and a guaranteed spot in the draw to enable them to plan their preparation.
“For a lot of these players the circuit is pretty arduous and complex even without the challenges they’ve faced this year. They’ve all been through a longer than usual pre-season and generally not had nearly as many matches as they would have normally. This will be the case with almost all the players coming into the AO and it’s going to be fascinating to see what unfolds."
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