Sunday, 14 January 2018 12:44 PM GMT
Federer in relaxed mood before title defence

When Roger Federer arrived in Melbourne 12 months ago, his expectations were low, hoping to do well but wary of how his knee would hold up on his return to top-level competition after six months out; and he won the Australian Open title.

One year on, the bad news for his rivals is that now, that hope has turned into expectation.

With Andy Murray missing after hip surgery, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka not 100% after injury absences of their own and Rafael Nadal going in cold after missing the warm-up events, Federer looked content and confident as he contemplated the defence of his title.

And no one was falling for his attempts to play-down his chances of a 20th Grand Slam title, as valiant as they were.

“With age, I feel like I play down my chances just because I don't think a 36-year-old should be a favourite for a tournament,” he said. “It should not be the case. That's why I see things more relaxed at a later stage of my career.”

Federer begins his title defence against Aljaz Bedene and seems to be enjoying life as much as ever, which is not surprising having finished 2017 ranked world No.2. 

His appetite for the tour remains undimmed and he admits he’s in a good moment. “I've always enjoyed it,” he said. Do I enjoy it more now? It's unfair if I say yes, because I felt like I loved the time when I was coming up and playing my heroes from TV. I mean, that was extremely cool, you know. It's like a little boy in the candy store back in the day.

“When I was No.1 in the world, winning all these tournaments, that was a lot of fun, too. That was OK. Now it's different. It's definitely great times. Is it the best ever? I'm not sure. It's definitely a lot of fun right now.”

Federer’s press conference was the last of the weekend’s round of traditional pre-tournament media commitments. Here’s what some of the leading contenders on both the men’s and women’s side had to say:

Rafael Nadal (on being top seed)

“It is better to start No.1 than No.20. I'm being honest. That's the real thing. (But) everyone starts from zero. I start from zero again. Start as new season, an exciting one. I hope to be healthy and competitive, and most important thing, I hope to enjoy tennis one more year.”

Novak Djokovic (on the state of his elbow)

“It hasn't been 100% yet healed, but right now it's at the level where I can compete, and every day is getting better. Even if it's 100% healed, after six months of no competition, you never know how you're going to react. So let's see. There's not much more I can do. I've done really everything in my power to be here.”

Nick Kyrgios (on maturing, and his search for consistency)

“Last year there were periods where I was really good and really bad. But at the end of the day I just need to know it's a long year. I can't expend too much energy on other things. I want to kind of ride the highs, not as high as I usually do. If I lose a match, at the end of the day it's a tennis match. I kind of want to keep it even-keeled throughout the whole year rather than (it) being such a rollercoaster ride.”

Elina Svitolina (on changing her pre-Grand Slam routine)

“I was always playing a tournament (the week before) the Grand Slam. I think it's quite exhausting because you are already (thinking) about the Grand Slam. It probably adds little bit more pressure. I'm the kind of player that likes to be 100%. I was pretty much exhausted going into grand slams.”

Sloane Stephens (on life after winning the US Open).

“I think it's always a tough transition when you go from not playing tennis for 11 months to winning a Grand Slam. It's never going to be anything you expected. It's a little bit overwhelming. I like to just stay in my own little bubble and do my own thing.”

Simona Halep (on being the world No.1)

"It is special for me. It's nice to be in this position, for my experience, for everything. It's really, really nice. About the ranking, for sure doesn't matter anymore what is going to happen. Of course, I want to stay here in the top as long as possible. But I'm not doing everything for this reason. I have one more goal: to win a Grand Slam."