Roger Federer has backed Alexander Zverev to step up amid the injury crisis among the elite of men’s tennis, with Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic’s participation at the Australian Open still in doubt.
The Swiss, 36, has looked in good shape at the Hopman Cup, where Zverev is also competing, but his long-term rivals have failed to make a competitive appearance between them in the new season.
Murray has all but ruled himself out of the Australian Open, with Djokovic and Nadal still yet to prove their fitness for the event, while 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka has yet to make his return from a knee injury.
Australian Open men’s odds (Betfair)
5/2 – Federer
11/2 – Djokovic
7/2 – Nadal
10/1 – Zverev
10/1 – Murray
11/1 – Dimitrov
14/1 – Del Potro
Unsurprisingly, given his rivals’ injury woes, Federer has been made the clear favourite to defend his title at Melbourne Park but he picked out Zverev as one of the main threats to his crown.
‘I think every year that goes by he’s only going to become stronger at the Slam level,’ Federer told the Hopman Cup.
‘He’s going to be very tough to beat here at the Australian Open. I think he’s doing all the right things.
‘He had a great pre-season, he arrived early here in Perth. He’s put in some sacrifices.’
Zverev admitted he’s keen to continue improving as he looks to improve on his best effort at a Slam – reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2017.
The German, who has already reached world No. 3, was taken out in the third round of the Australian Open by Nadal in an epic five-setter last year but has since won two Masters 1000 titles, beating Djokovic and Federer in the finals.
But his win over the Serb in Rome stood out for the 20-year-old and has helped to build his confidence heading into the new season.
‘(It) was something I didn’t expect maybe,’ Zverev said. Because it was on clay as well, a surface that other players had dominated for such a long time.
‘I knew I could beat the best players but I’ve never really done it on clay. It was probably the most amazing tournament.’
However, the world No. 4 is keen to keep looking forward and hopes to take 2018 by storm.
‘The first time I came here [the Hopman Cup] I was 18-years-old, I was ranked 80 something in the world, now I’m the number four, he added.
‘Things have changed a little bit but obviously I don’t want to stop here.
‘I keep wanting to improve and keep wanting to get better because there is so much more I can accomplish.’