Federer identifies triple title threat

Defending champ sees Djokovic, Zverev and Nadal as challengers to Australian crown

Swiss tennis player Roger Federer during the Australian Open Draw at Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne, Australia on Jan 10, 2019.
Swiss tennis player Roger Federer during the Australian Open Draw at Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne, Australia on Jan 10, 2019.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE • Double defending champion Roger Federer has unsurprisingly named Novak Djokovic as his main rival ahead of the Australian Open next week.

It is just as well for him that he and the Serb, both eyeing a record seventh title, were kept apart in the draw yesterday and cannot meet unless both reach the final.

Djokovic had a magnificent 2018, making an astonishing climb back from outside the world's top 20 in June to winning Wimbledon and the US Open on the way to reclaiming the No. 1 ranking in November.

It is no wonder that Federer, 37, is wary of the 31-year-old, but the Swiss great has also picked ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev and long-time rival Rafael Nadal as contenders.

"Novak, Zverev, Rafa if he's 100 per cent," the 20-time Grand Slam winner said at the draw ceremony held at Margaret Court Arena yesterday when asked who he thinks could win the men's title this year.

"He (Djokovic) continues to challenge me. I played him in his prime when he was virtually unbeatable. It was important not to get frustrated by it. I always enjoy my matches against him.

"We are both natural attacking players. We are aggressive. He is up there with Nadal and (Lleyton) Hewitt, they make me rethink my game. I like to play attacking tennis, so I've come full circle."

He starts his bid for a hat-trick of titles against the unseeded Uzbek Denis Istomin, who upset Djokovic in the second round two years ago.

Federer, who beat Marin Cilic in the final last year, could meet the Croat in the quarter-finals, should he come through a potentially tricky fourth-round tie against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Should he make the last four, he could find Nadal, who retired in the last eight last year, waiting for him.

Djokovic will first meet a qualifier and could play a rematch of his 2008 final triumph over Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, with a possible quarter-final against Japan's Kei Nishikori.

Second seed Nadal, under an injury cloud after pulling out of the Brisbane International, will open against unseeded local James Duckworth, with South African Kevin Anderson a possible quarter-final opponent.

Fourth seed Zverev will start against Slovenian Aljaz Bedene.

In the women's draw, Serena Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th Slam title and eighth at Melbourne Park will start against German world No. 71 Tatjana Maria.

The American, however, faces a tough run to the quarter-finals, with top seed and last year's finalist Simona Halep of Romania a possible fourth-round opponent.

Halep will start against unseeded Estonian Kaia Kanepi, who knocked her out in the first round of last year's US Open.

US Open champion Naomi Osaka faces Poland's Magda Linette first.

Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki, who broke through for her maiden Grand Slam title last year, is in line to face former winner Maria Sharapova in a mouth-watering third-round showdown.

"I can't believe it's been a year already," Dane Wozniacki said at the draw. "To get that (title) here was so special, it's the happy Slam."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2019, with the headline 'Federer identifies triple title threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe