slam time

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 15 Jan 2018 10:45:59

FEW would have second thoughts of Roger Federer firmly holding the Australian Open title yet again in a fortnight but for the man himself. The tennis legend does not count himself among the favourites for the season’s first Grand Slam beginning Monday at the Melbourne Park. Modesty of a champion or call of an ageing body? The second option is most certainly ruled out. For, he has defied age and how!

Last season had footprints of Roger Federer, the ageless wonder, everywhere. He came back from injuries and a long hiatus to take on old nemesis Rafael Nadal, tamed him, and took his 18th Grand Slam title in Melbourne. He did not stop and added the Wimbledon crown too. And yet, Federer feels vulnerable at the start of the new season when he kicks off the title defence on Tuesday against Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia.

Federer’s apprehension goes in tune with a champion’s mindset which does not allow any opponent to be taken lightly. Bravado in form of lofty words does not suit Federer’s style. He is one of those fighters who take things as they come. And this time the Swiss great definitely has seen the raging desire of his rivals to topple him.

The usual suspects are back too. Novak Djokovic just cannot wait to relight the fire. Rafa Nadal is motivated for a revenge. Stanislaus Wawrinka has overcome his dodgy knee. And then there are the new kids on the block like Nick Kyrgios.

Presence of all such stars, who are eager to prove themselves, makes this year’s Australian Open an interesting fare to watch. Federer, of course, starts favourite. In fact, he is the all-time sentimental favourite. But the return of Djokovic is an event that will be watched with keen interest. The Serbian former world number one is touted as the leader of the ‘walking wounded’ in the season-opening Slam. Same was the case with Federer when he entered the court in January 2017. He made his own destiny. Others are waiting to deny him this time.

The prospect of old warriors taking on the effervescence of youth is mouth-watering. Kyrgios is one to watch out for, as Federer himself has said. The temperamental youngster has a penchant of petulant outbursts just like John McEnroe used to throw during his formative years as a player. But the form Kyrgios is carrying during lead-up to the Australian Open cannot be discounted so easily.

The volatile Kyrgios will lead the NextGen at the Open. The home favourite stands a big chance in the depleted field that does not have the likes of Andy Murray. But like he has been experiencing so far, Kyrgios knows it is never easy to get the better of a master with a humble exterior and steely interior.