Seven-time Grand Slam winner Mats Wilander has backed Novak Djokovic to be the hungriest player in the Australian Open field.
Wilander believes that the 2022 saga will have lit a fire underneath Djokovic and players will struggle to handle him.
His first match in Australia offered little to suggest that Wilander is wrong in his assement.
“I think Novak Djokovic is going to be very welcome wherever he wasn’t allowed to go in 2023,” Wilander told Eurosport.
“It starts with the Australian Open, of course, and I don’t think that we have ever seen a more hungry tennis player in terms of wanting to get revenge or wanting to win matches. I don’t think anyone has ever been hungrier than Novak is going to be.
“I think that a lot of people maybe thought that decision [being deported] was right at the time because you can’t make a privilege out of being Novak Djokovic. I think this year, he’s going to be very welcome and it’s going to be an amazing situation.
“I think Novak is the number one favourite for many, many reasons. I mean, obviously, one reason is that he’s won the Australian Open nine times. The surface is perfect for him.
“The Australian Open has a history of having players winning it multiple times that are very consistent all the time – and I’m speaking from my own experience as I won there three times.
“When you play the way Novak plays, he doesn’t have ups and downs. Everybody is not 100% ready in Australia. Some are very ready, some are not ready, and he is always somewhat ready. Somewhat ready for him means he’s the favourite. The surface is perfect.”
Wilander feels that a win in Melbourne will spice up the overall Grand Slam race.
“The revenge he most probably wants will be winning in Melbourne,” he said.
“The race is back on. If he wins it, it’s 22-22 [Grand Slams tally with Nadal].
“He has got to get to 22 before the French Open comes in May because Rafa might grab another one. You cannot lose in Melbourne and be 21 and Rafa gets to 23.”
Wilander doesn’t believe that any other players will rise up to make a significant challenge to Djokovic.
He would however, suggest that Daniil Medvedev could be a threat.
“I think this is tough, tough, tough for everybody else. Daniil Medvedev would most probably be the biggest threat that I see to him [Djokovic]. Of course, Rafa is going to be there and give a big challenge, but I would think Novak is a pretty heavy favourite this year.
“You can easily compare the record of winning 10 Australian Opens with Rafa Nadal winning 14 French Opens.
“I think that in today’s men’s professional tennis, a lot of them have grown up on clay, but on hard courts, they are all experts. I think that if you win 10 Australian Opens on hard courts, that means you have to beat maybe the best field in tennis because everybody knows how to play on hard courts.
“So I think that achievement would be unbelievable. Nine is already unbelievable.”
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