Roger Federer will begin his quest for a third straight Australian Open title when he takes on Denis Istomin in the first round at Melbourne Park on Monday.
Also in sight for the great Swiss is a 21st Grand Slam title, a record seventh Australian Open crown and a staggering 100th career singles title, and what a stage this would be to clinch a century of titles. First though, he has to contend with and subdue the aggressiveness of a bespectacled 32-year-old Uzbek.
Federer revived his career by ending a 5-year Grand Slam title drought at this same event in 2017, and further enjoyed relative success that same year. He repeated the same feat in 2018 by defending his title Down Under, but had to endure a mediocre second half of the season, winning just four titles on tour and notably falling in the fourth round of the US Open to Australian outsider, John Millman. He would end the season at No.3 on the ATP rankings log.
This year, though, the Swiss has shown glimpses of a return to his best form. He went to Perth to play in the Hopman Cup alongside Belinda Bencic and guided Switzerland to a successful title defense. He went undefeated in the singles.
Elsewhere, Denis Istomin, who’s ranked just inside the top 100 at 99, returned to tennis action for the first time in three months at the Maharashtra Open in Pune. It was a disappointing outing for the Uzbek, who crashed out in straight sets in the first round to an Italian qualifier. And now, for his second match of the new season, he faces a mountain, one he’s likely not to surmount.
Their head-to-head record isn’t something the Uzbek will want to think about going into the match. They have played against each other six times and Federer has triumphed six times.
Given their history and recent form, Federer should stroll through this encounter. However, Istomin has caused a major upset in the past on this same ground, when he defeated then defending champion, Novak Djokovic in the second round two years ago.
Something akin to that on Monday will be wildly shocking. However, that is highly unlikely.