Serbian insists 'no clear favorite' Down Under despite his storming start to year
SYDNEY－Defending champion Novak Djokovic said there are no clear favorites for next week's Australian Open despite his flying start to the season.
The world No 2 was in fine touch at the ATP Cup, leading Serbia to victory in the new men's team event as it overpowered Davis Cup champion Spain in the final in the early hours of Monday.
Djokovic's march included wins over rising Canadian star Denis Shapovalov, world No 5 Daniil Medvedev and the top-ranked Rafael Nadal.
Despite last week's triumphs and his dominance at Melbourne Park, where he has won the season-opening Grand Slam seven times since 2008, Djokovic said there were plenty of players capable of being crowned champion.
"Look, the last hard-court 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 favorites. 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 favorites.
"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 a NextGen player winning a Slam. You know, it seems like it's getting closer. Hopefully not this year. We'll see."
Djokovic hugely enjoyed the ATP Cup, a different start to how he usually begins his season, reveling in the team spirit and the thousands of Serbians in the crowd, who chanted, sang and recreated the atmosphere of a soccer stadium.
He called it the "perfect preparation" for a tilt at an eighth title at the Australian Open, which starts on Jan 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."
Rafa wants merger
Nadal renewed his call on Sunday for the new ATP Cup to merge with the Davis Cup, urging tennis chiefs to fix it "for the health of our sport".
The inaugural 24-team ATP Cup, played in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth in a revamped start to the season, has proved a hit with many players and fans.
But it took place just six weeks after the new-look Davis Cup in Madrid, won by Nadal's Spain, which also has countries competing against each other in a round-robin format.
Last week's event was run by the men's tour, the Association of Tennis Professionals, while the Davis Cup is run by the International Tennis Federation.
Nadal, along with Djokovic, believe the tournaments are too close together.
"I think it (the ATP Cup) is a great competition, but at the same time I can't change my mind that two World Cups in one month is not real," said Nadal after he lost in straight sets to Djokovic 6(4) in the ATP Cup final.
"It is not possible. We need to find a way to fix it and we need to find a way to make a big deal with ITF and ATP to create a big World Team Cup competition, not two World Cups.
"I think that's a confusion for the spectators, and we need to be clear in our sport. And for the health of our sport and for the benefit of our sport, in my opinion, it is mandatory that we fix it."
The issue of merging the two was first mooted by Shapovalov this month and backed by Djokovic, who heads the ATP players' council.
"We need to have one Super World Cup event, whatever you want to call it," he said.
"That's not going to happen next year as well. But if the two sides, the ITF, the Davis Cup, and the ATP get together very quickly, it can happen possibly for 2022.
"I hope it will happen because it's kind of hard to get top players to commit to play both events."
Asked when would be the best time to hold a combined event, Nadal was non-committal.
"I can't tell you my real opinion, because it will not make sense today. And it's not that easy. It needs a little bit of a longer conversation."
But he did hint that holding such a grueling competition at the start of the year was not ideal.
"It's a long competition. It's a tough way to start the season. I don't know."