Rod Laver
Tennis great Rod Laver says Novak Djokovic is hot favourite to win an 11th Australian Open crown. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS
  • tennis

Put Novak’s initials on the trophy now, says Laver

Darren Walton January 20, 2024

Tennis legend Rod Laver believes it is going to require something “miraculous” for anyone to stop Novak Djokovic from capturing a mind-blowing 11th Australian Open crown.

Laver also reckons Alex de Minuar’s rise to second-week grand slam contender is overdue and says the great Australian hope “should be doing more” after finally cracking the world’s top 10.

Laver appeared at Melbourne Park for the first time all tournament on Saturday after making the long-haul flight from his California base.

Novak Djokovic
 Rod Laver reckons Novak Djokovic (pic) looks almost unbeatable at Melbourne Park. Image by James Ross/AAP PHOTOS 

Pundits wasted little time seeking the two-time calendar-year grand slam sweeper’s assessment of the men’s title contenders.

But if fans were hoping for Laver to say de Minaur or anyone new would hoist the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup next Sunday night, they were left sorely disappointed.

 The Rockhampton Rocket says even at 36 years of age Djokovic remains “amazing” and the man to beat once again at Melbourne Park, even suggesting the super Serb might be hoodwinking his rivals with his unusually laborious first-week progression.   

“He has all the shots. He knows exactly when he could play them and when he can’t play them,” Laver said.

“It is almost to me like he’s priming himself to get through to the final. He’ll lose a set somewhere in these five-setters and I’m thinking ‘Is he having us on’ because he could win this in two and two and two (6-2 6-2 6-2).

“He’s such a great athlete to begin with, but his mind also is tennis and so he sees it almost unfold in front of him, just what he should be doing.

“That is how he is being a great champion.

“He serves well, his groundstrokes are unbeatable so I have to believe unless someone miraculously plays their best tennis to knock him off, they can start putting part of his initials on the trophy now.”

While Djokovic faces crafty French left-hander Adrian Mannarino on Sunday for a place in the quarter-finals, Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev stands between the 10th-ranked de Minaur and a spot in the last eight of his home grand slam for the first time.

Alex de Minaur
 Alex de Minaur is one win away from making the Australian Open quarter-finals for the first time. Image by Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS 

“Alex de Minaur is a great player,” Laver said.

“He should be doing more than he’s doing because he’s got a great game.

“But there’s 10 or 15 players who are so talented now that there’s no easy matches.

“Alex is tough, but also all the other players have improved and the competition is getting so much bigger now.”