Two of Roger Federer’s greatest rivals enter the Australian Open with uncertainty regarding their fitness, and yet the 37-year-old Swiss continues to paint a picture of feeling evergreen. Andy Murray, six years Federer’s junior, confirmed his plans to retire in 2019 after been ravaged by a right hip injury, while he has endured major back and wrist problems during his career.
Nadal, 32, has constantly spent time on the treatment table with knee and wrist problems, while he will make his competitive return to action at Melbourne Park having undergone surgery on his ankle. By contrast, Federer’s only major injury woe came in a freak accident when running a bath for his kids in 2016, eventually leaving him on the sidelines for six months later that year with a knee problem. A teary Andy Murray announces that he will retire in 2019
The Swiss’ ability to remain fit and healthy to compete at the top level after 20 years is remarkable in itself, and he attempted to explain how he has dodged serious injuries throughout his career. ‘I mean, I definitely need a little bit of luck,’ he said at his pre-Australian Open press conference. ‘If you look at how unlucky things were with the incident here a few years ago when I ran the bath, I guess the knee, that part of the body was ready to go. Could have happened easily in the match against Novak [Djokovic at the 2016 Australian Open], but it didn’t, maybe because I was warmed up. I have no idea what happened. I think you also need a little bit of luck. What Andy Murray’s planned retirement means for British tennis
‘Then I think I really understand my body very well. I know when something hurts and I can play with it; I know when something hurts and I should not play with it, but I can still play maybe a match, maybe a week, a month, whatever it may be. Sometimes that helps. But I feel like every player has that. ‘I can only speak about my team. I think my team also, they know when to push me, when actually they are happy that I don’t practice so much. ‘I’ve always also believed I can play tennis when I don’t train so much. I think that’s been maybe one thing that for me, the confidence I have in my game, even if I don’t play so much, I still feel like I can come up to a good level. Maybe takes away some pressure.
‘Maybe also the way I play tennis, maybe it’s smoother than the other guys. It just maybe looks that way. I work extremely hard in the matches as well. It just maybe doesn’t come across so much. I don’t know if that’s also something that maybe is part of the equation.’ Federer is chasing history in Melbourne this year, he will secure a record seventh Australian Open and 100th career title if he can negotiate his way through the draw in the coming fortnight and he’s in a confident mood ahead of his opening match. However, he’s refusing to look beyond his first opponent Denis Istomin, who famously defeated Djokovic at the 2017 event. ‘Well, I don’t want to overanalyse how I played in the off-season, how I played at the Hopman Cup,’ he added. That’s exactly how then I might not recover if I have a bad start in the match tomorrow, let’s say. So I think the focus really is on those early rounds, especially tomorrow has to be. ‘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. ‘Look, I’m playing good tennis. I’m confident that I think it needs a good performance by my opponent probably to beat me. That’s always a good thought. But then again, I think I’m playing well. ‘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.’