MELBOURNE: It might be argued that 36-year-old fathers of four have no business winning grand slam titles but try telling that to Roger Federer as the evergreen Swiss bids to claim a record-equalling sixth Australian Open crown in two weeks’ time.
Federer will saddle up for a 19th time in the main draw at Melbourne Park, looking to frustrate ‘Generation Next’ once again and defend the title he won last year during a stunning comeback from knee surgery.
No such queries hang over his fitness this year and if bookmakers are to be believed the other 127 men in the draw will be fighting for the scraps from Federer’s plate.
On immediate form, few could argue.
Federer, seeded second, arrives for a first round match against mid-ranked Slovenian Aljaz Bedene after cruising through an undefeated run at the Hopman Cup.
His major rivals, meanwhile, are either carrying injuries or returning from them, or in the case of ‘Big Four’ cohort Andy Murray, ruled out because of them.
A magical 20th slam might seem a formality for a player who did it all in last year’s tournament with the shortest of run-ups, but on closer inspection, Federer’s path through the draw is far from straightforward.
Danger lurks at almost every corner, with former Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic and a resurgent Juan Martin Del Potro, the man who beat Federer for the 2009 U.S. Open title, looming as threats before the quarter-finals.
Yet few would be surprised if the tournament ends in a repeat of last year’s final with Federer up against his great Spanish rival and top seed Rafa Nadal.
The pair split the four grand slam trophies between them last year, with Nadal, at 31, finishing the season as the ATP rankings’ oldest world number one.
FIT AND FIRING
Like Federer, Nadal has pared back his playing schedule to prolong his career but the strain still showed when he pulled out of the ATP Tour Finals in November with a knee problem after losing his opening match.
He missed warmup events in Abu Dhabi and Brisbane but appeared untroubled in an exhibition match win over Austrian world number five Dominic Thiem at Melbourne Park on Friday.