Can anyone see beyond Novak Djokovic as the 35-year-old aims to claim a staggering 10th title at the Australian Open later this month? Well, certainly not Justine Henin, who has no doubts in labelling the Serb the clear front-runner to lift the trophy yet again at Melbourne Park. Henin has also given her views on Rafael Nadal’s chances as the Spaniard makes his latest comeback.
Novak Djokovic is the “immense” and “overwhelming” favourite to triumph at the Australian Open as he returns to an event he has previously dominated, according to Justine Henin.
The 35-year-old could not compete at Melbourne Park last year in what turned out to be an utter debacle with the then-defending champion allowed to enter the country before being eventually deported prior to the start of the tournament in acrimonious fashion.
It has already been a much happier trip for him this year, however, as he has been warmly welcomed by the local fans and triumphed at the Adelaide International ahead of targeting a record-extending 10th title on Rod Laver Arena.
If he does win in Melbourne again he will draw level with great rival, Rafael Nadal, on 22 Grand Slam singles crowns.
Former world No. 1 Henin believes the hunger and “desire to take revenge” will be strong for the Serb as he looks to stamp his authority back on a tournament he has already won nine times and made his own.
“Novak Djokovic is hungry! He is, in my opinion, just as in many other Grand Slams, the overwhelming favourite,” Henin told Eurosport’s Arnold Montgault.
“In recent years, we have seen that the hunger he has rarely any players have ever had. But this time there is a desire to take revenge because I think that the last 18 months have been very rough on him for different reasons.
“There was the quest for the Calendar Slam, in which he fell at the last step in 2021. Then there was the Australian Open mess and the decision not to get vaccinated, which meant he had to isolate himself from the tour.
“That was a personal choice, obviously, that we can only respect. He made strong choices and he accepted the consequences they had on him. When he could be present, he was very, very good and very strong.
“In 2023, he is in perfect physical shape, and he arrives with the desire to prove things. So yes, he is the big favourite.
“A lot of things can happen, but clearly, in my opinion, it will be Djokovic versus the others. Djokovic will be the immense favourite.”
Djokovic has received a very warm reception from the fans so far in Australia as he was cheered on at the Adelaide International, and Henin believes it will be the same for him in Melbourne – and rightly so.
“He is very appreciated there because he has won so many times in Melbourne and because he likes to play there,” Henin said.
“He has always had a good connection with the Australian crowd, a very respectful crowd that also wants to see the best players present. Therefore he will have their support.
“He already had it in Adelaide, and he will have it in Melbourne, there’s no doubt about it. I think it’s very respectful and quite fair of them.”
Despite feeling as though Djokovic is the clear favourite, Henin also believes that top seed Rafael Nadal will be a serious contender for the title he will be defending from his surprise triumph last year.
“Will Rafael Nadal continue to surprise us? I say that positively because it’s true that a year ago, no one imagined at the start of the season what he would achieve in Australia and then the rest of the season until Roland-Garros,” she said.
“Today, everyone is asking a lot of questions about Rafael Nadal, who keeps finding resources year after year.
“Rafa has said he is not in a rebuilding phase and we should not exaggerate either, but he had a difficult end of the season as he became a father.
“Last year, he surprised us. Will he be able to do it again when we know that it is the Grand Slam that has always been the most challenging for him? He did it last year.”
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