MELBOURNE • Defending champion Roger Federer says rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic should be seen as leading contenders for the Australian Open, as he is too old to be considered a favourite.
The 36-year-old is bidding for a record-extending 20th Grand Slam title and is fit and in form, unlike the 31-year-old Spaniard and the 30-year-old Serb who enter the tournament under injury clouds.
But the father of four said at his age, he liked to play down his chances in his 19th Australian Open.
"With age, I feel like I play down my chances just because I don't think a 36-year-old should be a favourite of a tournament, it should not be the case," world No. 2 Federer said yesterday. "That's why I see things more relaxed, you know, at a later stage of my career.
"I feel like maybe somebody like a Rafa, with the year that he's had, and Novak with the six titles he's had here, even if it's unknown how he's feeling, they could very well be the favourites, too."
Federer, who had an incredible 2017 after returning from injury, winning a fifth Australian Open and a record eighth Wimbledon, opens his title defence against Slovenia's 51st-ranked Aljaz Bedene tomorrow.
He faces a potential quarter-final against David Goffin if he stays on track to become only the fourth player ever to win 20 or more Slams - joining Margaret Court (24), Serena Williams (23) and Steffi Graf (22).
He can return to world No. 1 if he wins the title and Nadal loses before the quarter-finals, but he was not getting ahead of himself.
"My focus needs to be early because I have my own problems, you know, to get through my section of the draw, my game," said Federer.
One player who will not be in the men's singles draw is former world No. 17 Bernard Tomic.
The Australian lost 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 to Italy's Lorenzo Sonego in the final round of qualifying yesterday and will miss out on his home Grand Slam after 10 successive main-draw appearances. The 25-year-old appeared crushed by the defeat and snapped sarcastically at reporters when asked where he would go from there.
"I just count money, that's all I do. I count my millions. Bye bye," said the world No. 142.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS