MELBOURNE, Jan 16, 2016:
Roger Federer baulked at suggestions that Novak Djokovic had climbed above his fellow ‘Big Four’ players on Saturday — but he admitted the Serb “deserves a little star” by his name.
Despite Djokovic’s dominance last year, Federer, who has arrived at the Australian Open with new coach Ivan Ljubicic in tow, insisted the Serb’s competitors were not far behind.
The ‘Big Four’ of Federer, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray has long dominated men’s tennis, and has been joined by Stan Wawrinka, who won his second Grand Slam title last year.
But the concept of an elite group has been called into question by the exploits of Djokovic, who fell only one win short of a calendar-year Grand Slam last year.
“Who’s had the most success? The top five guys really, with Stan, you know, Murray, myself, Novak and Rafa,” Federer told journalists in Melbourne.
“I still think the same guys are playing very well,” added the Swiss. “But, of course, Novak deserves like a little star next to his name right now because he’s been doing extremely well.”
Federer insisted he hadn’t tailored his game just to beat Djokovic, after he teamed up with Croatia’s Ljubicic — who is close to the Serb and has an intimate knowledge of his game.
“Not really. That was more something that went into the press,” he said when asked if Ljubicic had helped him switch up his game for Djokovic.
“I’m always on the look-out for how to play certain players or certain tournaments or about my own game. So Novak might be a small piece of the puzzle, but it wasn’t the (only) piece.
“I’m more focused about my own game than any other player.”
– Cold comfort –
Djokovic is a puzzle Federer, 34, will have to solve if he is to add to his record 17 Grand Slam titles as retirement looms ever closer.
But the Swiss won three of their eight matches last year and he said Ljubicic’s input was more about giving him the final shove he sometimes needs to get over the winning line.
“Last year I did quite well against Novak. Of course, I’ve got to keep it up. I always believe there’s new things you can learn, but there’s always sometimes a way of staying motivated, staying hungry. Someone like Ivan can also help do that,” Federer said.
“But I can do a lot by myself, but I need my support team to push me the last one percent, five percent, 10 percent, whatever it is, because I’m not in the same mood every single day.”
Federer added that he was all but recovered from the illness that hampered him at the Brisbane International, where he lost in the final to Milos Raonic.
The third seed’s first-round match at Melbourne Park, where he is a four-time winner, is against Georgia’s Nicoloz Basilashvili — with Djokovic potentially lurking in the semis.
“Cough’s gone. The cold’s 90 percent gone. I’m happy. The last couple days I’ve been able to practice normally. Yeah, I’m relieved that since Thursday now I’m better,” Federer said.