Tennis: Knight fever as Sir Andy Murray looks to make racket at Australian Open

Britain's Andy Murray hits a forehand return during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne. Photo / AP
Britain's Andy Murray hits a forehand return during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne. Photo / AP

Sir Andy Murray is newly-knighted and top seed for the first time but is taking nothing for granted in his latest bid for long-awaited Australian Open tennis glory.

Not even his lowly-ranked first-round opponent. Ilya Marchenko, a 29-year-old journeyman from Ukraine ranked 95th in the world, is hardly a household name.

But the latest addition to tennis royalty is treating Marchenko with due respect ahead of today's first men's match of the 2017 Open on Rod Laver Arena.

Murray is aware Marchenko enjoyed his best run in his last grand slam, ousting Aussie Nick Kyrgios from the US Open before falling to eventual champion, Swiss Stan Wawrinka, in the round of 16.

"I saw him playing a bit at the US Open. He had a good run there a few months ago. Also had a very tight match with Wawrinka there," Murray said. "He's not easy. He fights hard. He's got a great attitude. Plays predominantly from the back of the court and moves well.

He doesn't give you too many free points."

In reality, the five-times runner-up should have too many guns for Marchenko, with Murray's first major threat likely to come in the fourth round against rising Frenchman Lucas Pouille, the 16th seed.

Murray could face Roger Federer in the quarter-finals and fancies his chances of finally breaking through at Melbourne Park after losing to the Swiss in the 2010 final and to Novak Djokovic in four more title deciders since, including the past two.

"I think I'm in a decent position, for sure, to do it," Murray said.

"I have a chance to win here. Obviously nothing's guaranteed. But, yeah, why not? I'm playing well. Practice has been good. I feel healthy. I'll give it a good shot."

With Djokovic having mountains of points to defend until Wimbledon after last year's Open victory and his defeat of Murray, also in Paris, the great Scot is likely to remain world No1 for months to come.

And he plans to enjoy his time in the sun after taking seven years to reach the summit since first reaching world No2.

"The reality is, in sport, that things obviously keep moving on; the game will get better, I'll obviously get older, the young guys will continue to improve," Murray said.

"And also Novak and Roger and Stan [Wawrinka] and Rafa [Nadal] and all the guys at the top are still going to be wanting to get there."

Djokovic, relegated to second seeding for the first time in three years, opens his bid for a record seventh title tomorrow against Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.

Federer, who plays veteran qualifier Jurgen Melzer, gets under way tonight.

Fourth-seeded Wawrinka, facing Martin Klizan, fifth seed Kei Nishikori, who plays Andrey Kuznetsov, and Australia's two men's seeds -- Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic -- also feature on the day one programme.

In the women's draw, world No1 Angelique Kerber knows the chasing pack is nipping at her heels but the top-seeded German is confident the extra pressure won't affect her Australian Open title defence.

The 28-year-old is feeling good about her return to the scene of her grand slam breakthrough at Melbourne Park where she defeated 22-time grand slam winner Serena Williams in a thrilling final last year.

In a stunning 2016 season, Kerber secured the year-ending No1 ranking, replacing Williams, with her second grand slam win when she took out the US Open.

That mantle came with greater demands on her time and increased expectations of her performance but Kerber believes she has successfully adjusted to life at the top of women's tennis.

"I'm not thinking too much that I'm top seeded now. When I'm thinking like this, the pressure is much higher than when I'm just doing my things like I did before."

Williams, the No2 seed, looms as her biggest threat, with the six-time Australian Open champion declaring herself ready to move on from an injury-hit 2016 campaign.

One of the main contenders, No4 seed Simona Halep, will get the Open under way this morning with a first-round encounter against American Shelby Rogers.

- AAP

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