Nikola Pilic: 'With or without Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic is the top favorite'

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Nikola Pilic: 'With or without Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic is the top favorite'

The first Major of the season starts in Melbourne on February 8, with Novak Djokovic as the main favorite. The eight-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic will seek another crown down under, hoping to defend the title won in 2020 and make the GOAT race even more enjoyable.

Former Davis Cup player and captain Nikola Pilic believes that Djokovic would be a player to beat with or without Roger Federer in the draw, praising the Serb's Melbourne performance and picking him as the title contender if Novak remains at 100% physically in possible tricky encounters.

In 2020, Novak produced a 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 triumph over Dominic Thiem in four hours, adding the 17th Major trophy to his tally and moving closer to Federer and Nadal. Djokovic endured all the obstacles, defended 2000 points and returned to the ATP throne.

It was the 11th Major title for the Serb on hard courts, joining Roger Federer at the top and becoming the third player after Federer and Nadal with eight crowns at a single Major! Djokovic won ten points more, forced more errors than Dominic and hit fewer unforced mistakes, although all the numbers were mighty close.

Nothing could separate the rivals in the mid-range exchanges, while the Serb had a slim advantage in the shortest and most advanced rallies, recovering after a sluggish third set to reign supreme. There were five breaks on each side, and Novak used all of his experience to cross the finish line first and stay undefeated in the Australian Open semis and finals, winning all 16 encounters in the latter stages.

Thiem wasted game points in his first service game and suffered a break, pulling it back at 2-4 following Djokovic's backhand error. The Serb grabbed another break at 5-4 when the Austrian hit a double fault to wrap up the set and gain momentum.

Dominic moved ahead in the second set's third game before losing the advantage at 4-3 when Novak broke back.

Nikola Pilic believes that Novak Djokovic is the Australian Open top favorite.

Thiem was more focused in those moments, earning a break at 15 in the ninth game and securing the set a few minutes later for 1-1.

Carried by this momentum, the Austrian raced into a 4-0 lead in set number three and claimed it 6-2, moving one away from the first Major title. With no room for errors, Djokovic survived a break chance in the fourth set's third game and took 12 of the last 15 points to rattle off three straight games at 3-3 and gain a massive boost ahead of the decider where he was the favorite now.

The Serb broke the Austrian at 1-1 and fended off two break opportunities in the next game to forge a 3-1 advantage. With his back pushed against the wall, Dominic held after deuce in game five for a vital hold that kept him within one break deficit.

Facing a break chance at 2-4, Thiem repelled it with a service winner, closing the game with another powerful serve to stay in touch. Novak produced a service winner in game eight to maintain in front, forcing the rival to serve at 3-5.

Showing no signs of nerves, Thiem held at 15 when Djokovic sprayed a backhand mistake, reduced the deficit to 4-5 and earned one last return chance. He opened the game with a backhand down the line winner, but Djokovic was not to be denied, placing an ace for a 15-15 and holding after a forehand error from Thiem to celebrate the title.

"Novak has won eight Australian Open titles; he always plays fantastic down under. That's his court and he is the top favorite, with or without Roger Federer in the draw. For Novak, it is crucial to be at 100% physically and avoid potential troubles that might happen at big events," Nikola Pilic said.