STARNBERG, December 22, 2020 (Guest post)
Swiss veteran Roger Federer has admitted he is in a battle to prove his fitness ahead of next year’s first Grand Slam of the 2021 season, the Australian Open. Despite a delayed start to the event in Melbourne, Federer is still overcoming his double knee operation from earlier this year, with arthroscopic knee surgery keeping him sidelined since January.
Although the 2021 Australian Open is now due to start on February 8 rather than mid-January, those extra three weeks may not be enough for Federer to reach 100% fitness. The Swiss admitted that he “hoped” to have been fully fit “in October” but he is “still not today”. The 20-time Grand Slam champion was philosophical on his chances of appearing ‘down under’, admitting that all he can do is see how the “next two months will unfold”.
Summer setback put paid to Federer’s 2020 ATP season
Federer initially underwent surgery on his right knee in February, with a view to returning to full fitness in time for this year’s Wimbledon. However, a setback with his rehab in June forced him to go under the knife once again, which he described at a recent awards ceremony in his native Switzerland as a “huge dampener”. Although he has been unable to hit a ball in anger since the ATP Tour resumed in August, Federer acknowledged the “steady progress” made with his knee since the summer.
Although he says it will be “tight” for him to be physically and technically ready to perform at the Australian Open, the 39-year-old remains one of the leading contenders to win the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup. He is still the fifth favorite with FOX Bet, behind the likes of Rafa Nadal and Dominic Thiem. The fastest-growing US sports betting operator has priced Federer as short as +600 despite his apparent fitness doubts. That’s largely founded upon his solid recent form there, having won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018.
Djokovic still the man to beat in Melbourne
The clear favorite for the 2021 Australian Open is, unsurprisingly, Novak Djokovic. The Serbian is way out in front as the main contender, with Daniil Medvedev rated second favorite (+500). The 33-year-old has won an incredible eight Australian Open titles between 2008 and 2020, with his most recent victory at the start of this year coming against Dominic Thiem in a gruelling five-set encounter. This year’s victory helped Djokovic achieve tennis immortality by becoming the first male star of the Open Era to bag Grand Slam victories in three separate decades. The last male player to achieve this milestone was Ken Rosewall across the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
It will be fascinating to see how Djokovic reacts to his recent defeat in the ATP Finals against Dominic Thiem. His three-set loss at the semi-final stage ended the 2020 ATP season on a sour note for the Serb. However, he still finished the season as the world number-one – the sixth time in his career that he has finished a year at the top of the men’s world rankings. Djokovic registered a 41-5 win/loss record on the ATP Tour this year, but surprisingly the Serb had to share top spot with in-form Russian Andrey Rublev, who enjoyed the best season of his career to date, with a 41-10 win/loss record and five ATP Tour titles to his name.
The 23-year-old Moscow-born right-hander broke into the top ten of the ATP Tour rankings in October as a result of his fine recent form. Rublev has previous for winning ATP hard court tournaments in Australia too. At the start of this year, Rublev bagged the Adelaide International, winning as a third seed in straight sets in the final against qualifier Lloyd Harris. He followed that up with victory over 11th seed David Goffin at this year’s Australian Open, eventually falling at the fourth round to Alexander Zverev. Nevertheless, given the year that he’s had, it would be foolish to discount Rublev as someone that could go deep in the 2021 Australian Open. His current odds of +2500 could look like exceptional value in a month or so.