Melbourne: Ageless Roger Federer said he was in a confident mood and warned his rivals he was ‘playing good tennis’ as he aims for a third successive Australian Open title.
The Swiss master enjoyed a successful Hopman Cup warm-up in Perth and knows that at even the grand old age of 37 he has a great chance of a record seventh Melbourne crown and 21st major victory. “I’m playing good tennis. I’m confident that I think it needs a good performance by my opponent probably to beat me,” said the third seed, who opens his defence against Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin in Monday’s night match on Rod Laver Arena.
A buoyant Federer revealed he had enjoyed a successful break coming into the 2019 season. ‘Throughout my career, I’ve been very lucky that in the off-seasons I never had any setbacks,” he told reporters at Melbourne Park. “What I can say is the off-season was great for me. I think maybe it showed a little bit at the Hopman Cup already. Again, look, I’m playing. We’ll see how it’s going to be here in Melbourne.”
Federer’s first-round opponent Istomin caused a massive upset in Melbourne two years ago when he knocked out defending champion Novak Djokovic in the second round, outlasting the Serb over five sets. “I think the focus really is on those early rounds, especially tomorrow,” said Federer, whose victory against Marin Cilic in last year’s final was his 20th Grand Slam title.
“I know what Denis did to Novak. I watched basically the entire game a couple years ago when he beat Novak here. I’ve had some tough ones against him in the past. He can play well in fast courts, and that’s what it’s going to be a little bit here as well,” added the world number three, who has won all six previous encounters against Istomin.
“Depending on how you match up with your opponent, who is going to win the big points, the margins are so slim nowadays that I’m just not thinking too far ahead. I don’t think I should because I think that would be a mistake. I hope I can put myself in contention as the tournament goes deeper, but we’ll see.”
Federer also revealed that he was shocked that tennis was to lose ‘legend’ Andy Murray this year and the Scot should be ‘incredibly proud’ of all he had achieved. “I was disappointed and sad, a little bit shocked, to know now that we’re going to lose him at some point. But we’re going to lose everybody at some point. It’s just now that it’s definite,” he added, acknowledging that the era of the ‘Big Four’ — himself, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Murray was drawing inexorably to a close.
“Of course, it hits us, top guys, hard because we know Andy very well. We like him. He doesn’t have many enemies, to be quite honest,” the world number three said of the three-time Grand Slam champion and double Olympic gold medal winner. “He’s a good guy, Hall of Famer, legend. He won everything he wanted to win. Anybody would substitute their career with his. He’s a great guy.”
Murray has won Wimbledon twice and Federer hoped the Scot could keep playing long enough to be able to say goodbye on the famous grass courts where the Swiss maestro has won a record eight titles. Murray faces a first-round clash Monday against in-form Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, seeded 22, who beat Djokovic on his was to winning the Qatar Open earlier this month.