DEFENDING champion Novak Djokovic insisted there are no clear favourites for the next week’s Australian Open despite his ominous start to the season.
The world number two was in fine touch at the ATP Cup, leading Serbia to victory over 23 other nations in the new men’s team event, overpowering Davis Cup champions Spain in the final in the early hours of Monday.
His march included wins over dangerous Canadian Denis Shapovalov, world number five Daniil Medvedev and his long-time rival, the top-ranked Rafael Nadal.
Despite this, and Djokovic’s dominance at Melbourne Park, where he has won the season-opening Grand Slam seven times since 2008, the Serb said there were plenty of players capable of being crowned champion.
“Look, the last hardcourt Grand Slam was in New York, and Rafa won it,” he said of the US Open final where Nadal edged Medvedev in five sets.
“So, you know, I think it’s really open, the Australian Open or any other Slam.
“I don’t think there are really clear favourites. You have obviously Federer, Nadal, myself because of the experience and everything and the rankings that we get to be probably named the top three favourites.
“But then you have Medvedev, (Stefanos) Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem that are really showing some amazing tennis.”
Djokovic pointed to the season-ending ATP Finals in London where Tsitsipas battled back from a set down to beat Thiem.
“They showed that they matured on the big stage, that they can challenge the best players in the world and win against them,” he said.
“So everybody keeps on talking about NextGen player winning a Slam. You know, it seems like it’s getting closer. Hopefully not this year. We’ll see.”
Djokovic enjoyed the ATP Cup hugely, a different start to how he usually begins his season, revelling in the team spirit and the large Serbian crowd support when he played in Brisbane and Sydney.
He called it the “perfect preparation” for a tilt at an eighth title at the Australian Open, which starts on January 20.
“I didn’t know what to expect from the event. Obviously I didn’t know how deep we would go and I was hoping we would pass the group stages and see how it goes,” he said.
“But these kind of team competitions are really, truly special, and I’m personally over the cloud with my emotions, and hopefully I can take that positive energy and use it for Australian Open.”
Meanwhile,Novak Djokovic’s win over Rafael Nadal on Sunday not only helped Serbia secure the ATP Cup in Sydney but enabled him to close the gap on the Spaniard in the new ATP rankings released on Monday.
Djokovic won all eight of his matches last week and beat his rival 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) in the final to close the gap between the world’s top two players to just 510 points as the tour heads towards the first major of the season, next week’s Australian Open in Melbourne.
At the start of the year, the gap stood at 930 points.
The other beneficiary of last week’s action was the Russian Andrey Rublev who climbed five places to 18 on the back of his victory in Doha, the third title of his career.
ATP rankings as of January 13
1. Rafael Nadal (ESP) 10,235 pts
2. Novak Djokovic (SRB) 9,720
3. Roger Federer (SUI) 6,590
4. Daniil Medvedev (RUS) 5,960 (+1)
5. Dominic Thiem (AUT) 5,890 (-1)
6. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) 5,375
7. Alexander Zverev (GER) 3,345
8. Matteo Berrettini (ITA) 2,870
9. Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) 2,640 (+1)
10. Gael Monfils (FRA) 2,565 (-1)
11. David Goffin (BEL) 2,555
12. Fabio Fognini (ITA) 2,310
13. Denis Shapovalov (CAN) 2,200 (+1)
14. Diego Schwartzman (ARG) 2,130 (-1)
15. Stan Wawrinka (SUI) 2,045
16. Karen Khachanov (RUS) 1,995 (+1)
17. Kei Nishikori (JPN) 1,930 (-1)
18. Andrey Rublev (RUS) 1,799 (+5)
19. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 1,772 (+1)
20. John Isner (USA) 1,770 (+1)