Roger Federer is embracing his position as the one to watch and defending champion at the upcoming Australian Open after he helped guide Switzerland to a third success in the Hopman Cup in Perth on Saturday, alongside team-mate Belinda Bencic.
The world No. 2 went undefeated in singles matches this week in Perth, defeating Yuichi Sugita, Karen Khachanov, Jack Sock and Alexander Zverev. Last year Federer competed at the Hopman Cup then flew to Melbourne and stunned the world by winning the Australian Open title following a six-month injury absence.
The 36-year-old Swiss will be looking for a repeat this month in Melbourne, and if his form in Perth is anything to go by, he looks in prime position to win a 20th Grand Slam title.
“I’m just really excited going back to Melbourne, where I had my fairy tale run last year, it was that crazy,” said Federer, who is aware he is tipped by many to defend his Aus Open crown.
“That’s normal, but it’s a long way I must admit. It’s great to be the defending champion, I take it the right way this year I think. I won’t put extra pressure on myself regardless of who’s going to play or not play or regardless of what the draw is. I think for me it’s just important to be in a good mindset, well-prepared, and then just ready to go. And I feel like I am already.”
In men’s singles in Saturday’s final, Federer dropped the first set against the 20-year-old Zverev, but recovered to win in three, 6-7 (4), 6-0, 6-2.
Zverev beat Federer at the Hopman Cup last year and came out all guns blazing on Saturday in a high-intensity first set where both players produced moments of brilliance and each holding multiple break points.
Federer’s frustration was obvious as the set slipped away, dropping his racquet after missing an easy volley and then launching a ball towards the roof.
However, he turned the match around by approaching the net more often and using drop shots to catch Zverev napping.
The frustration changed sides of the net as the German copped a code violation for an audible obscenity after disputing the chair umpire’s decision to replay one of his serves during the second set.
Zverev’s serve, and resolve, was broken in the third game of the third set and fittingly it was a Federer drop shot which sealed the win.
Kerber, who is ranked 21st after starting last year at number one, then maintained her perfect singles record during the event to beat Bencic 6-4, 6-1 to level the tie.
Bencic, who was ranked seventh in the world before injuries stalled her progress, started brightly but Kerber soon took control and raced through the second set with breaks in the fourth and sixth games.
That set the scene for the mixed doubles, where Bencic produced some stunning returns on the Zverev serve and teamed superbly with Federer to claim the title with an emphatic 4-3 (3), 4-2 win under the Fast4 format.
“Great week. Can’t thank Belinda enough, she’s been, in my mind, in the doubles the MVP. She got back those returns when it really mattered and it made us win the match,” said Federer of his partner.
“She made the difference, I truly believe that. Because those three winners mattered…
“If I did come back I would want to have Belinda as my partner, that’s for sure.”
— Hopman Cup (@hopmancup) January 6, 2018
Meanwhile, Federer also paid tribute to the influence of countrywoman and former Hopman Cup team-mate Martina Hingis on his career.
Federer’s success with Bencic on Saturday gave him a second title in Perth, having also been part of Switzerland’s previous victory back in 2001, when he teamed with Hingis.
At that time, Federer was just 19 and was yet to win at an ATP event. He said the time spent with Hingis in Perth had a profound effect on his career, which now includes 19 Grand Slam singles titles.
Hingis was the youngest ever Grand Slam champion and world number one, spending 209 weeks at the top of women’s tennis and winning five Grand Slam singles titles.
Federer visited Perth with Hingis twice, once as a hitting partner and then in 2001 as her team-mate, and said it shaped his career.
“I could look up to her and think, wow, how is she being so mentally strong and so consistent at such a young age,” the Swiss star recalled. “It made me also believe with hard work and dedication you get really far, because I didn’t believe it that much at that point when I was younger, I thought it was more all talent.
“Definitely she helped me to become the player I am today.”
Federer was thrilled to add a second Hopman Cup to his glittering resume and said it was a very different feeling to the first.
“It is totally different to when I won it with Martina because I was the apprentice and she was the master,” he said.
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina laid down her marker as a serious contender for the Australian Open when she demolished Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2, 6-1 in the Brisbane International final on Saturday.
Svitolina won five titles on the WTA tour last year, more than any other woman.
She ended the year ranked sixth in the world, but will climb two places when the new rankings are released on Monday and will go into the year’s first Grand Slam as the fourth seed.
Svitolina said she had worked hard in the offseason to improve her game and that work was now paying off.
“I’ve started to play more consistently and there’s lots of things that changed,” she said. “I’m stronger physically. I have a different look to my game.”
The 23-year-old had a tough path to the decider, having to overcome top-10 players Johanna Konta and Karolina Pliskova and former world number six Carla Suarez Navarro along the way.
“I didn’t have any expectations for this week — I was just trying to take it one match at a time,” she said.
“The first match was quite tough against Suarez Navarro. And I had a very tough draw.
“It was very important to use what I was working on during the offseason, and it was working.
“I was playing better and better and my serve worked really good during this week.”
— WTA (@WTA) January 6, 2018
Svitolina was far too strong for Sasnovich, who struggled to cope both with the Ukrainian’s serve and her relentless barrage of groundstrokes from the back of the court.
Sasnovich was playing in her first final on the WTA tour and her nerves showed in the early stages as Svitolina broke her early and raced away to a 3-1 lead.
The Belarusian steadied the ship but she was always under pressure and serving at 2-5, she cracked.
Svitolina pounced, breaking her again and wrapping up the set in 31 minutes.
Sasnovich was also playing her eighth match in nine days and her movement around the court appeared slightly slower than in her previous outings.
Svitolina was even more dominant in the second set, racing to a 5-0 lead before Sasnovich even got on the board.
However, it was a minor reprieve as Svitolina held serve to love to claim her 10th title in just 65 minutes.
Sasnovich refused to blame her busy schedule for her performance.
“I don’t know why it’s like this, why I played so bad,” she said. “I don’t know, to be honest. Sometimes it happens. I played some good matches and this one was bad.”
But the Belarusian, who will rise 35 places in the world ranking to 53rd, said her efforts in making the final had made her reevaluate her goals for Melbourne.
“I have time to prepare for Australian Open,” she said. “I hope to be ready mentally, physically, to be good there.”
Nick Kyrgios claimed a big scalp on Saturday, defeating world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov for the first time to reach his maiden tour-level final in Australia, but insists he will move on quickly as he looks to start the season with a title triumph.
Kyrgios ended the Bulgarian’s title defence in Brisbane with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 success, producing a serving masterclass in the last two sets on Pat Rafter Arena. The talented Aussie next takes on American world No. 47 Ryan Harrison, who halted the heroic run of 18-year-old Alex de Minaur 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in Saturday’s semi-finals.
“He had a pretty good end to his year. Yeah, it feels good. Obviously, it’s confidence for me,” said Kyrgios of Dimitrov, who won the year-end ATP Finals in London last November.
“But I’ve played a lot of the top players before and I know that I can’t just — you know, it’s just another match for me. I can’t expend too much energy on one match. I’m moving on now and just trying to get ready for tomorrow.”
It was Kyrgios’ third three-set win of the week, and despite some concerns over a knee injury he picked up before his first match in Brisbane, the 22-year-old is hopeful he can seal the deal against Harrison on Sunday.
“I just got a retape today. My knee is feeling okay. But, yes, hopefully it feels good coming into tomorrow,” said Kyrgios, who is looking to become the first Aussie to win the title in Brisbane since Lleyton Hewitt in 2014.
On the prospect of winning the title on home soil, Kyrgios said: “It would be really good. I haven’t won one in Australia before. So, you know, it would pretty cool to win one here, but obviously I’m not going to lose sleep if I lose the final…
“I just remember one year where Rusty (Hewitt) won his final. That was probably the last time I watched a final here. I mean, it would be pretty cool to have my name next to his.”
Dimitrov, who entered the match with a 2-0 head-to-head record lead over Kyrgios, broke serve on the only break point either player could produce in the opening set before the Canberra-native decided to step things up. Kyrgios, ranked 21 in the world, dropped just one point on his first serve in the second set and found a different gear to complete a strong victory.
“I think I played well the first set. And, yeah, after that, there was not much else I could have done, I thought,” admitted Dimitrov.
“I mean, he was just serving unbelievable, just hitting his spots. Like, I even thought at some point was a little bit, like, carelessly hitting the ball, and they were getting in.
“So, again, I could only focus on what I’m doing on my side and, yeah, that was that. I thought, I mean, even when I got broken in the second set, I didn’t think I played a bad game. It was just good shots from him.”
Dimitrov on Kyrgios: He was just serving unbelievable, just hitting his spots. Like, I even thought at some point was a little bit, like, carelessly hitting the ball, and they were getting in.
More here: https://t.co/ncAFgpQRFV pic.twitter.com/gGVKiwKcGx
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 6, 2018
Dimitrov concedes that a care-free Kyrgios is a dangerous opponent, hitting with abandon and difficult to counter.
“There were a lot of balls that were pretty casual, but what can I do? There’s no point for me to get frustrated or pissed whatsoever. You just have to accept it,” said the 26-year-old Dimitrov.
“And we know how he is. He can switch from playing unbelievable to just missing, you know, the easiest shots and all that.
“But obviously I just — there’s not much I can say, to be honest. It was just like there were a lot of balls that I thought he slashed away, and they just got in. And it doesn’t matter what I do. The ball was just, like, coming back and back. It was just like hitting, hitting through, hitting through.
“And also I get that sometimes when there’s no way out, you try to change up the game and break the rhythm of a player. And today just everything, whatever I thought he tried, it was just great. So, I mean, obviously he deserved to win today.”
Harrison, who is the first American to reach the Brisbane final since Andy Roddick in 2011, is looking to pick up a second career title. He entered the tournament with a 0-4 win-loss record in Brisbane before winning four matches this week. He could reach a career-high world No. 40 ranking if he wins the title on Sunday.
Harrison is 0-2 against Kyrgios but is looking to change that around when he takes to the court for his first career final outside the United States.
“Definitely a different milestone for me. Because, again, I had made two finals and one title, but they were both in the States,” said the 25-year-old.
“But as we talked about last year, there’s been a lot of new milestones that have been occurring in my career. And a lot of that’s due to, like we talked about the other day, just a different sort of approach, a ‘not extra added pressure on myself’ approach, which is allowing me to be a little more free, a little more confident, and even under some really difficult circumstances like I was under today with a massive crowd behind him.
“And I’m just able to enjoy playing tennis. Try to produce some of my best tennis.”