Australian tennis great Rod Laver has questioned whether Roger Federer has enough confidence in his ageing body to win an 18th grand slam title at the Australian Open.
Federer’s long-awaited return after a six-month injury layoff has produced mixed results, with the Swiss maestro winning his first match and losing his second in the Hopman Cup mixed team tournament in Perth this week.
The former world No.1 injured his left knee while preparing a bath for his twin daughters early last year, underwent surgery and then re-aggravated the injury during his Wimbledon semi-final against Milos Raonic.
With the Australian Open set to begin on January 16, Federer said he had been pleased with his preparation and hadn’t been troubled by his knee.
But Laver, the only player to win a calendar-year grand slam in the Open era, says a sterner test awaits in Melbourne under grand slam conditions so early in his return.
“It’s hard. Someone like Roger’s got so much talent,” Laver said in Melbourne on Thursday.
“(At) 35 … it’s maybe not that you’ve lost a step, but you’ve lost that confidence that ‘can you go back and retrieve all the things that you had been doing so easily’.
“Now you’re thinking about them a little bit more, and that creates some of the apprehension maybe he sees in his game.
“I think that’s probably the only thing he needs to be thinking of, not ‘am I fit enough’ … it’s just, can you play confidently when the chips are down.”
Laver, who remains a keen observer of the game at 78, even had some feedback for world No.16 Federer after his loss to German teenage star Alexander Zverev on Wednesday night.
“He let it get too close to the match point,” Laver said.
“That was the area that certainly, three tiebreakers against someone (so) strong … you’re going to battle. That’s a tough task to come straight back into someone that good.”
With a record 17 grand slam titles to his name, Federer has achieved enough to be considered among the greatest players of all time but has been unable to add to his tally after his triumph at Wimbledon in 2012.
Laver believes Federer remains good enough to win his fifth Australian Open title despite the fact he will enter with a seeding in double figures for the first time since 2003.
“It depends on the draw, in some ways,” Laver said.
“If he has a lot of tough matches early, maybe he doesn’t have the best left in him for the final.
“But I think at the same time, he’s certainly capable of winning another slam.”