A year ago, the script was flipped on these two players at the Australian Open. Roger Federer was returning from an injury, not having competed for six months. Novak Djokovic was the defending champion and number 2 seed at the tournament. Federer had fallen out of the top 10 for the first time in years. It was Djokovic who fell early, however, and Federer won the tournament. This time around, it is Djokovic who is the returning player, bumped all the way down to the 14th seed, and Federer is world #2 and defending champion. They were not placed in the same quarter of the Australian Open draw, but rather, the same half, so they are two wins apiece away from a potential collision in the semi-finals. What might another matchup between these two have in store for us then?
As of now the all-time head-to-head is 23-22 Djokovic
This rivalry is arguably a more interesting one than the Federer-Nadal one. With a one win lead, Djokovic could do no worse than a tie if he were to drop this match. This rivalry started out heavily in Federer’s favour, but has titled towards Djokovic the past few years. With Djokovic back and healthy again, and Federer comin off one of his best seasons ever, this would be a great semi-final matchup.
Federer has many points to defend early on
Federer did most of his winning from January-march and July-October of 2017. With 2000 ranking points from Melbourne and 1000 apiece from Indian Wells and Miami, he has quite a load to defend in the first four months of the season. Should he meet Djokovic in the semi-final, it would be a dangerous matchup not only given his opponent, but given the amount of points he would lose if he lost. A semi-final defeat would grant Federer 720 points- a far cry from the 2000 for winning. This would cause him to fall further behind Rafael Nadal for world no. 1. Given that Federer cannot win additional points at Indian Wells and Miami, he would have to rely on an early exit for Rafa at these events while simultaneously winning. Given how good Rafa is on clay, expecting much less than a finals appearance at any of the clay events would be a little outlandish. In other words, Federer needs to win to have a shot at overtaking Nadal for the no. 1 ranking. If he falls behind early, the chances are he will not catch up to him later.
Djokovic has been Federer’s kryptonite at Grand Slams
Federer has not beaten Djokovic in their past four Slam meetings. The last time Federer beat him was at Wimbledon 2012. Three of the losses have come in the final. While Federer has shown that he can beat Djokovic, he has not proven that he can do it in a bet-of-five set match for a while now. Last year when Federer won his two Slams, there was no Djokovic in the way, and that could very well have been the only man stopping him. Now Djokovic is back, and appears to be playing at a high level once again. Federer has reinvigorated his game, but if he runs into a hungry Djokovic playing at the top of his game, will it be enough? Last year, Federer slayed one demon in a dominant head-to-head record over Nadal. Could he slay his Djokovic Grand Slam demon?
Djokovic has much to prove
Just like how there were question marks hanging over Federer’s head a year ago, similar ones hang over Djokovic. Questions like: “is Djokovic done winning Slams?”, or “is this the beginning of the end for Djokovic?” Were often asked. Considering how he eclipsed 30 last May, many saw it as a bench mark for the beginning of rapid decline for the Serb.
Now he is back. His coach, Andre Agassi, has spoken highly of him and believes that he can return to dominance once more. He has looked great so far in his first three matches in Melbourne. With another win, he will be back in the quarter finals. There wouls be no better way for him to prove that he is a force once more than to win in Melbourne once again.
A match between these two looks to be in the cards (and what a match it would be), but first, they have to make it there.