2019 Australian Open will most certainly be the last grand slam to have the big four of men’s tennis playing together as Andy Murray’s first round match could be his last at any grand slam. Predictably, the other three members of the big four are the big favourites to win the first grand slam of the year.
Though many pundits have predicted a win for Novak after his triumphs in the last two grand slams of 2018, the two-time defending champion Roger Federer is still a force to reckon with, and can very well make a hat-trick of Australian Open titles by winning this year.
Though on the face of it, he seems to have had a rough draw, as he is expected to meet both of his great rivals, Djokovic and Nadal, if he is to win the title, a closer look at the draw suggests that he actually has not got the most difficult of draws.
He has had more difficult draws in the past in which he has triumphed. Here is a look at his draw and how he does have a realistic shot at the first grand slam title of the year:
His first round opponent is the Uzbek Denis Istomin, to whom Federer has not lost even once in six encounters. Their last encounter was at the Swiss Indoors in 2014, which the Swiss Maestro won in three sets. Though Istomin has a big serve and is capable of causing upsets, as was seen in his famous win over Djokovic in the 2017 Australian Open, it is difficult to see him getting past a fit and motivated Federer here.
Federer’s second round opponent will be a qualifier. So, unless Federer has an off day and the qualifier plays the match of his life, it should be smooth-sailing for the world number three.
The third round opponent for Federer is the mercurial French man, Gael Monfils. At his peak, Monfils is one of the most dangerous opponents that one could face on a tennis court. But in recent years, he has been plagued by injuries and loss of form. So, even if he manages to reach the third round, he can at best try to make the match a competitive one. It is unrealistic to expect him to pose a serious challenge to Federer.
It is in the fourth round that Federer will meet one of the most promising young tennis stars in Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek, who had a breakout 2018, has modeled his game on Federer’s. He is that rare next gen star who has a one-handed backhand. But it is that backhand which has let him down many times in the past, especially when put under pressure.
Without any disrespect for Tsitsipas, it is safe to assume that Federer would probably be happy that of the few next gen stars, it’s the Greek who has landed on his side of the draw.
It would have been trickier if he had got someone like Borna Coric, who has had his number in recent times, the mercurial Nick Kyrgios who has given him a tough time in the past, the big serving Paris Masters Champion Karen Khachanov or the year-end ATP World Tour Finals winner, Alexander Zverev.
Tsitsipas will not make it easy for Federer, but it is the Swiss who certainly would be the favourite in this match-up between two players with similar styles and games.
Federer’s most likely quarter final opponent will be Marin Cilic in a repeat of the final of last year’s Australian Open. The former US Open champion has the big game to win big tournaments. But in recent times, he is seen to be afflicted by nerves which has let him down at crucial moments. He may manage to make this a close encounter, but a superior temperament from Federer is set to see him through to the semifinal.
If seeds play according to potential, then it will be a block-buster semi-final match between Federer and Nadal. However, Nadal has been plagued by a series of injuries in the last few months and has barely set foot on court. Even if he manages to reach this far, which seems quite unlikely at this moment, he would not be in the best physical shape to take on Federer, who has had his number since that epic 2017 Australian Open final.
If not Nadal, the other potential semi-final opponent for Federer would be Kevin Anderson. But as Federer showed in his one-sided triumph over the South African in the ATP World Tour Finals, he would not let himself to be bogged down by the memory of the heart-breaking loss to Anderson in last year’s Wimbledon Championships. So, regardless of who his semi-final opponent is, Federer is expected to reach the finals.
Federer’s expected opponent in the title clash could be the world number one, Novak Djokovic. Though many pundits consider Djokovic as the favourite, he is not in the kind of unbeatable form that he was during the halcyon days of 2015-16.
The Serbian may have won the last two grand slams of 2018, but he has also lost in his three previous tournaments, including a shock semi-final loss at the Qatar Open to Roberto Bautista Agut. So, in spite of being a clear number one, he is certainly not the clear favourite here.
What may also go against Djokovic is the overwhelming crowd support for the Swiss Maestro. There have been occasions in the past when the Serbian has let the crowd reaction get to him. All things considered, this Australian Open presents Roger Federer a great opportunity to clinch his twenty-first grand slam title.
Prediction: Roger Federer will clinch his third consecutive and a record seventh Australian Open title.Published 13 Jan 2019, 13:38 IST