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10 October 2017, 07:53
Andy Murray is set to compete in the Australian Open next January, according to the tournament director.
The British number one has been sidelined since limping out of Wimbledon with a hip injury in July and, although he has not officially confirmed it, he is unlikely to play again this year.
But tournament director Craig Tiley says Murray will be among a host of top stars returning to grand slam tennis in the new year, along with Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori.
Djokovic has also not played since Wimbledon due to an elbow injury, Wawrinka and Nishikori have been missing since the summer with respective knee and wrist problems, while Williams appears set to return to Melbourne Park to defend the 2017 title she won while eight weeks pregnant with her first child.
The 23-time grand slam champion gave birth in early September but could be back in Melbourne.
"I'm very happy to confirm that all the top players will be back in Melbourne in January," Tiley said at the tournament's launch, streamed on Twitter.
"On the men's side, there has been a lot of concern and conjecture around Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Kei Nishikori.
"I can tell you that in talking to Andy, he has been training and he is preparing for having a great year in 2018.
"How much would this year have hurt him, to watch over the entire year Roger and Rafa share four grand slam titles - he would not have like that.
"As competitive as Andy is, we know he's back and he'll want to improve his current ranking of number three in the world and getting back to number one."
Murray hobbled through to the quarter-finals at SW19 having suffered a hip problem at the French Open but finally succumbed to Sam Querrey.
He had hoped to return to action for the US Open in August but pulled out 48 hours before the tournament started and also skipped the Asian swing of the ATP Tour, which is currently ongoing with the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
The Scot will also not defend his title in Vienna at the end of this month and although he has yet to announce it, the prospect of him playing in Paris, where he became world number one last year, is slim.
If Murray, Djokovic, Wawrinka and Nishikori are back in action in Melbourne, it could make for some mouthwatering clashes in the early rounds, with all four men set to have unusually low seedings.
Tiley said that Williams has a "special relationship" with the Australian Open, with the 35-year-old naming her child Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr in honour of the tournament where she was pregnant.
Tiley said: "Serena, the competitor that she is, she wants to win more than the 23 grand slam titles that she has.
"We have a special relationship with Serena, the Williams family, both her and Venus. She wants to come back in 2018 and defend her title. Obviously, at training now, there is several months to go and it will be up to her as far as where she is with her fitness."
Tiley also announced the prize money for next year's tournament will rise by 10 per cent to 55million Australian dollars (£32.5million), with the men and women's champions earning 4million Australian dollars (£2.3million).