Federer starts Australian Open as ‘clear favourite’, say experts


MUMBAI: Roger Federer’s impressive start to the season at the Hopman Cup dovetailed with question marks over the fitness of his key rivals makes the Swiss legend a ‘clear favourite’ to retain his Australian Open title, tennis analysts believe.

Possibly for the first time ever, Federer finished a surprise winner of a Grand Slam last January, mainly because he was returning from a six-month injury layoff. Barring a back injury that plagued his US Open campaign, the 36-year-old was in sublime touch for the rest of 2017, adding a record eighth Wimbledon crown and five other titles to his fairytale triumph in Melbourne.

He appears to have carried that form into 2018 which Federer began by winning all four of his singles matches, including a scorching display against promising German Alexander Zverev, enroute to steering Switzerland to a third Hopman Cup triumph.

With Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori out injured and the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka all starting the year with some degree of uncertainty hanging over their physical condition, experts maintain it would be no surprise on this occasion to see Federer go the distance in Melbourne for the sixth time.

“It’s just amazing. He just keeps doing it,” Patrick McEnroe, an analyst with ESPN, told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday. “He looks younger than ever. He’s moving as beautifully as ever.  —Agencies