Roger Federer believes the ’big four’ of men’s tennis is still going strong but admits Novak Djokovic is in a class of his own ahead of next week’s Australian Open.
Djokovic, Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal – together with the more recent addition of Stan Wawrinka – have long dominated the major tournaments, with only one of the last 24 grand slam champions coming from outside that group.
Parity, however, has been on the wane as Djokovic has cemented his place as world number one, following a run of 16 consecutive tournament finals, while last year winning three of the four major titles.
If there was any hope the Serb’s form might ease off in 2016 it lasted less than a week, as Djokovic wiped the floor with Nadal in Doha this month for the loss of just three games.
It will be Federer’s turn if they both make the semi-finals in Melbourne but the Swiss claims he takes little interest in the latest order at the top.
“I don’t think Rafa and I personally look at the rankings very much, check it out all the time, care too much to be quite honest, after being world number one,” Federer said.
“I still think the same guys are playing very well. But, of course, Novak deserves like a little star next to his name right now because he’s been doing extremely well.”
Federer has also been enjoying a resurgence, his 2015 performances some of the best seen in years from the 34-year-old, and he may also enjoy a bounce after replacing Stefan Edberg with Milos Raonic’s former coach Ivan Ljubicic.
“I think I remember Stefan telling me maybe here last year that this was going to be his last year,” Federer said.
“Then I checked with him if that was really the case, maybe at Wimbledon at some point.
“With Ivan, it was really at the end of the year. That’s when Ivan told me that with Milos it wasn’t going to continue.
“I said, ’So you would be available? I’m checking other options, too. But are you interested at all?’ He said, ’Yeah, I would love to do it, so let me know’.
“I went through the process. At the end I called Ivan up and asked him then. He was very excited.”
Federer, who is seeded third and landed in Djokovic’s half of the draw, plays Georgian world number 117 Nikoloz Basilashvili on Monday.
The 17-time major champion has also shaken off the illness that contributed to him flopping against Raonic in Brisbane last week.
“The cough’s gone,” Federer said. “The cold is 90 per cent gone. I’m happy.”
Nadal will avoid both Federer and Djokovic until the final but has much to prove after a disappointing 2015, starting with an opening round tie against compatriot Fernando Verdasco on Tuesday.
“The good thing about Novak is he’s an amazing player,” Nadal said.
“The second good thing is he never has injuries, so that helps a lot to have full confidence in yourself, and to not lose the rhythm ever.
“When you are in the top, you have injuries, is tougher to recover that confidence and that level of tennis.
“And then I hope to be there fighting to be closer to him. I am sure that the rest of the players want the same as me.”