No­vak is Open ‘favourite’

TEN­NIS

Kalgoorlie Miner - - SPORT -

No­vak Djokovic is lay­ing siege to Roger Fed­erer’s two-year rule of Rod Laver Arena, as the two ten­nis ti­tans chase a record sev­enth Aus­tralian Open men’s sin­gles crown.

Fed­erer, who faces De­nis Is­tomin tonight to launch his quest for an Open hat-trick, has owned the Open since his stun­ning re­turn to grand slam glory with an epic vic­tory two years ago over Rafael Nadal.

But his lat­est reign co­in­cided with Djokovic’s mys­ti­fy­ing slump dur­ing which the Serb dropped to No.22 in the world and was barely a fac­tor at the ma­jors.

Djokovic is un­doubt­edly back, the 31-year-old re­dis­cov­er­ing his mojo in win­ning Wim­ble­don and the US Open in 2018 to re­gain the No.1 rank­ing and top seed­ing sta­tus for the Open.

Even after an­other Fed­erer un­de­feated Hop­man Cup cam­paign and a crush­ing vic­tory over world No.4 Alexan­der Zverev — the Ger­man lead­ing the next-gen chal­lenge of try­ing to end the big three’s grand slam dom­i­na­tion — the great Swiss in­sists Djokovic is again the man to beat in Mel­bourne.

“No doubt about it, No­vak is the favourite,” he said.

Stranded on 17 slams for al­most five years be­fore his ex­tra­or­di­nary re­nais­sance in 2017, Fed­erer al­ways be­lieved Djokovic would cool after his white-hot run and give him an­other grand slam look-in.

“He chal­lenged me time and time again and I think I played him in his ab­so­lute prime, when he was vir­tu­ally un­beat­able, when he was hit­ting slid­ing back­hand pass­ing shots on the line time and time again,” the Swiss said.

“So, for me, it was im­por­tant not to get frus­trated by it (and hope) that maybe it was just a mo­ment in time.”

But it’s now ap­par­ent Djokovic’s un­touch­able touch was no such “mo­ment in time“, with Fed­erer declar­ing the 2019 model Serb back to his best after adding ma­jors num­ber 13 and 14 last year to his col­lec­tion.

Be­tween them, Fed­erer and Djokovic have won eight of the past nine Aus­tralian Open ti­tles, and 12 of the past 15, with Marat Safin (2005), Nadal (2009) and Stan Wawrinka (2014) the only gate­crash­ers to their an­nual Mel­bourne Park party.

Pic­ture: AP

No­vak Djokovic re­dis­cov­ered his mojo in win­ning Wim­ble­don and the US Open in 2018.

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