MELBOURNE (Reuters) – World number one Novak Djokovic gave Andy Murray a stinging reality check in the lead-up to next week’s Australian Open, dominating the Briton 6-1 4-1 in a practice match at Melbourne Park on Thursday.
Murray has struggled to regain form since undergoing hip surgery last January, and was quickly dismantled by the six-times Australian Open champion at Margaret Court Arena before the players called time on their match after less than an hour.
Serbian Djokovic heads into the tournament as favorite to win a record seventh title and his third Grand Slam in a row, while five-times runner-up Murray, now ranked 230th, will have far lower expectations at the event starting on Monday.
The 31-year-old three-times major champion returned to action last June but the former world number one cut short a deflating season in September.
The Scot did enjoy a winning start to his season with a victory over local player James Duckworth at the Brisbane International on Jan. 1 but was well beaten by Russian fourth seed Daniil Medvedev in the next round.
Murray is playing in Australia under his protected ranking of world number two, which is used to help players who have suffered long-term injuries.
But the lack of a seeding has left him exposed to a challenging early draw, and he will have to battle past a tough first-round opponent in Spanish 22nd seed and former world number 13 Roberto Bautista Agut.
Local hope John Millman, who dumped Roger Federer out of the fourth round at last year’s U.S. Open, is no slouch either as a potential second round match-up for Murray, with 10th-seeded Russian Karen Khachanov another likely roadblock to the last 16.
Murray, who has scheduled a news conference on Friday at Melbourne Park, admitted to still feeling pain in his hip before Brisbane.
While warm-up matches can be an unreliable gauge of a player’s form, there appeared little Murray could salvage out of the Djokovic match in which he appeared sluggish in his movement and retired to his courtside chair a picture of frustration.
Murray’s enduring struggles have raised fears he may never return to his best tennis and might decide to quit the game.
“The hip is incredibly difficult to come back from for especially a tennis player and someone that has worked as hard as he’s worked, put the miles on,” ESPN tennis pundit Patrick McEnroe said.
“I’m not optimistic, unfortunately … I hope he doesn’t retire any time soon. But I don’t see him playing if he at least doesn’t think he can be a factor in a major.”
Editing by John O’Brien and Ed Osmond