Roger Federer anticipates a tight contest between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking as the season begins, and says other players will have to step up and win big events to compete with them.
Federer has been sidelined with injuries since Wimbledon, but pronounced himself ready to return following some "quality time" with his family and rehab on his injuries.
"Maybe, mentally, I needed this more than I thought I would,” he said during a conference call with Australian reporters. “Maybe my body needed this more than I thought.”
Federer recently broadcast a practice session online from Dubai, showing himself back in full training.
But even during his time off, he followed the latest tennis developments, including Murray's rise to No. 1 in the rankings.
“I was surprised he finished the year as No. 1 because of Novak’s start, but even more credit to Andy for not just being No. 1, but finishing as No.1,” he said. “Becoming No. 1 for a week or finishing a year as world No. 1 is a different animal, so I really respect in a big way that he was able to do it.”
He wouldn't be surprised to see the No. 1 ranking change hands again between the two, though he noted that Djokovic has a lot more to defend in the first half of the season.
“I expect Novak to be No. 1 at some point again in his career,” said Federer, who dropped to No. 16 during his layoff. “It’ll be hard in the next few months because of the sheer domination he had at the beginning of this year, so I think Andy will hang on to it for a while. But then again, we have to see who stays injury-free. That plays a lot into it as well. It’ll be a bit of a neck-and-neck race for the next six months to a year."
But other players could also get into contention if they follow Murray's path, he added.
“If anybody wants to break that, they’ll have to win two Slams, so it’s pretty much on Novak and Andy’s racquet at the moment,” the 17-time Grand Slam champion said. “I’ve been close, but Novak had an incredible run, and it was difficult for anyone to break through him. So it’s up to us to reinvent ourselves and come up with a plan to beat Novak.
"Andy has shown that a little bit, and given belief to the players that there is a chance to win a Slam."
During his online session with fans, Federer said his goals at the start of his comeback were simply to play the Australian events and "go deep" into tournaments if opportunities came up.
A year ago, Federer reached the semifinals of the Australian Open, but played intermittently following his knee surgery.