Australian Open 2019

Tennis: Roger Federer feels he's 'in a great position'

Despite his age, the 37-year-old Roger Federer is a favourite for this year's Australian Open.
Despite his age, the 37-year-old Roger Federer is a favourite for this year's Australian Open.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE • Amelie Mauresmo won her two Grand Slam singles titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006 and retired three years later.

She would not have imagined then that Roger Federer, the man who won the same two Grand Slam singles titles that year, would still be among tennis' elite more than a decade later.

"I don't know how he does it," the Frenchwoman said. "What it puts on your body is huge. The training, the matches, the travel, the jet lag - anything."

While Mauresmo will be at the first Major of the year as the coach of compatriot Lucas Pouille, Federer's bid for a 21st Grand Slam starts today against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin.

"Winning back-to-back Australian Opens like this, in my mid-30s, it's one of my favourite things I will look back on in my career," the two-time defending champion said. "I didn't think it was going to happen."

The 37-year-old acknowledges his age readily, quipping at the Hopman Cup recently that his then opponent, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, "could be my son".

Despite marvelling at his own ability to run up the score in the record books - 99 titles and counting - at an age when many would count him out, Federer seemed to trail off after an auspicious start to last season, when he won his first 17 matches.

After winning the Rotterdam Open in February and briefly reclaiming the No. 1 ranking, the Swiss went without another tournament championship until October.

However, he played down the doomsday talk that followed his stagnation in the second half of last year ahead of his first-round match.

"I wasn't too disappointed," he insisted. "I was more surprised to hear that there was sort of concern, or people were saying, 'What a bad second half to the year.' I'm happy where I am right now. I'm in a great position."

Promising to do better this year, he also revealed his aim to "really play well when it really comes down to the crunch".

Yet Federer is aware of where he stands in the pecking order at Melbourne Park, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic the clear favourite in his eyes.

The Serb, a six-time champion in Melbourne, has won the past two Slams, but Federer remains his chief threat.

He said: "We know who the usual (contenders) are and I'm part of that bunch. I'm playing good tennis. I'm confident that it needs a good performance by my opponent probably to beat me (here)."

The longevity of that oligarchy, which also includes world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, has blocked several younger players from breaking through on tennis' biggest stages.

No player currently younger than 30 has won even a set in a Grand Slam final although expectations are high that ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev can build on his impressive victory in November.

Although the German is regarded as the most capable of the next generation to break the Slam cartel of the old guard, he has never gotten beyond the third round in Melbourne and has reached the last eight of a Major only once.

But, having won in London, the fourth-ranked 21-year-old, who will play Slovene Aljaz Bedene tomorrow, believes he has now "kind of figured out I have to have the same mentality when I play at Slams".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NY TIMES, REUTERS

AUSTRALIAN OPEN

Day 1: Singtel TV Ch114/115 & StarHub Ch208/209, 8am & 4pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2019, with the headline 'Federer feels he's 'in a great position''. Print Edition | Subscribe