With Rafael Nadal closer than ever to matching Roger Federer‘s grand slam haul, the pressure will be on him more than ever as he begins his quest for another Australian Open title on Monday afternoon. He will play the American Steve Johnson, who comes into the tournament in good form.
The drop down to Challenger Tour level can often prove beneficial for players, both as a means of earning points and as a confidence boost. That was exactly what happened for Johnson, who won in Bendigo after a straight sets victory against Stefano Travaglia in the final. Johnson plays in a similar vein to that of many of his countrymen, a big serve and a booming forehand to follow up.
Federer has not played a match this season but is fairly content with his preparation for the tournament, with practice better suiting his needs at his age and this stage of the season. “Practice has been going well. Had plenty of time to pace myself and do all the things I had to do to get ready. I hope it’s enough,” Federer said. “I know it’s a super long road to victory. That’s why I’ve got to take it one match at a time.”
The 38 year-old is unlikely to be able to fend off his biggest rivals for much longer but if anything is to go wrong for Nadal and Djokovic he should be there to sweep up, as he did in 2017 and 2018 in winning back-to-back titles in Melbourne. The focus for now though remains on his opening round match, one he is looking forward to. “I’m excited to play Steve. He’s a good guy. I think with his old-school playing – big forehand, slice backhand, good serve – I think it’s going to be a nice match for me,” Federer said.
Prediction – Roger Federer in straight sets