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Roger Federer says he shouldn’t be the favourite for the 2020 Australian Open title at 38 years of age – but insists he’s as excited as ever as he prepares for his 21st main-draw appearance at the first Grand Slam of the year.
Australian Open tennis is live from Melbourne from 20 January until 2 February 2020.
Federer also said he’s ‘OK’ with the possibility that Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic will surpass his Grand Slam haul.
The Swiss star was talking to the media in Melbourne, having arrived in plenty of time for the beginning of the Australian Open on Monday 20 January.
Federer has been practicing at Melbourne Park and is scheduled to appear, alongside Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Nick Kyrgios, at the Rally for Relief exhibition match to be held on Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night to raise funds for bushfire relief.
The 2020 Australian Open will be the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s 21st main-draw appearance at the first major of the year. Federer first played the main draw of the Australian Open in 2003, going on to win the title in 2004, 2006, 2006, 2010, 2017 and 2018. He also finished runner-up to Nadal in 2009.
But Federer insisted he is as motivated as ever.
‘The travel doesn’t bother [me] too much, to be honest,’ Federer said.
‘Last week I was asking myself, “Am I happy to go to Australia?”, or actually would I rather just stay here and stop packing immediately – because I can.
‘I could easily just stay home. And I was like, “No, no, no, I’m really happy to go to Melbourne and kick off the season there.”’
Questions about Federer’s age, and inevitable retirement, come up in seemingly every press conference the Swiss star gets, because his continued presence at the top of the game defies conventional expectations of how long tennis players’ careers should be.
Although success at more and more advanced ages is becoming the norm, with all of the world’s top three players – Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – into their 30s, Federer insists that his career longevity is no accident.
‘When I was younger – 20, 22, 24 – I was already hoping that one day I could play for a long time,’ Federer said.
‘So it wasn’t just decided five years ago that hopefully I’d still be playing at 38.
‘It was probably decided a long long time ago after I won my first Australian Open here in 2004 and I got to world no. 1 for the very first time. I hoped to have longevity. I worked hard for it really.’
The third act of Federer’s career began when he played the 2017 Australian Open after having taken the previous six months off to rehab knee and back injuries. Nobody knew what to expect, with his sabbatical from tennis considered a sign of the beginning of the end. But Federer defied all conventional wisdom by winning the title – his first major since Wimbledon 2012 – and doing so by defeating his nemesis Nadal in the final.
Federer successfully defied his Australian Open title in 2018 when he beat Marin Cilic in the final, bringing his overall haul of major titles to a record 20.
But that total no longer looks unassailable after Nadal won five majors in the past three seasons – two US Opens and three French Opens – bringing the Spaniard’s overall total to 19. Djokovic also continues to chase both, with a current total of 16 majors.
Federer, though, says he is not concerned if Nadal or Djokovic eclipse his total.
‘It was a big deal for me to equal Pete’s [Sampras’s] record and then maybe of course break it,’ Federer said.
‘But ever since it’s been about trying to add what I can to the tally. But I enjoy playing tennis. I love it. I hope I can still play for a little longer.
‘And if I can add more grand slams that’s great, but it’s not [about] trying to fend off the others – if they pass me that’s OK.’
The 2020 season has already witnessed its first ‘Big 3’ clash, with Nadal and Djokovic facing off in the ATP Cup final on Sunday – a match which drew everybody’s eyes, including Federer’s.
‘I’m aware that at 38 I shouldn’t be the favourite, it should be someone probably in their 20s, but the three of us have been able to stay as the favourites which is great for us,’ Federer said.
‘Both guys are already showing great signs. I was watching a little bit of their ATP Cup match and thought that was a great match. Both guys, injury free, are always tough to beat.’