John McEnroe, in an exclusive interview with Eurosport, says that the pretenders to Novak Djokovic’s crown at the Australian Open have to follow Carlos Alcaraz’s example and show they have “real belief” that the 24-time Grand Slam champion can be beaten.
The 36-year-old struggled with a wrist injury as he to Alex de Minaur at the United Cup last week.
McEnroe is unsure whether Djokovic is physically completely ready to defend his title, but put the onus on his opponents to not be overawed by facing the world No. 1.
The young Spaniard missed last year’s Australian Open due to injury, easing Djokovic’s path to winning the first of three majors in 2023.
“He [Djokovic] looks incredible, last year was monumental at his age, to be that great still,” McEnroe told Eurosport.
“Maybe we’re not sure about his wrist and if he’s 100% right now but that happened the last two years. He still won both years despite perceived injuries.
“People think he’ll be OK but I don’t know where he is physically. Technically he’s the best player I’ve seen: mentally, physically. Unless you have the real belief in your head that you can beat him, you’ve got no chance at all.
“A few players can rise to the occasion such as Alcaraz at Wimbledon, but few have. He’s won 10 Australian Opens and the law of averages would say someone at some point will win another one.
“But we said the same about Rafa [Nadal] at the French so who knows what will happen.”
One of the other potential contenders is world No. 8 Holger Rune, who has recently teamed up with Djokovic’s former coach Boris Becker.
The Dane has never progressed beyond the quarter-finals of a slam and McEnroe thinks Becker could instil the mentality he needs to go to the next level.
“Boris will have a different perspective about life in general and his coaching methods,” said McEnroe.
“He’s got a young player who needs to take that next step to be a Grand Slam champion. If Rune listens to Boris and Boris understands Rune, it could be a great partnership and I’m optimistic it will be good for tennis.”
In contrast to the young Rune, 2024 could bring down the curtain on Andy Murray’s glorious career.
The Scot has admitted that he may retire this year if injuries and lack of form continue.
Murray has battled back from having a metal hip inserted in 2018 to prolong his career on the ATP Tour.
However, the three-time Grand Slam champion sits 44th in the world rankings and has not reached the second week of a major since 2017.
McEnroe believes Murray is holding out for one final “big run” at one of the Slams before he hangs up his racquet.
“It’s hard for Andy to continue at No. 44 in the world as this is one of the greatest players of the last 15 years,” McEnroe said. “It’s also going to be hard for him to retire as he loves the game.
“He thinks he can get one big run or a big chance. Maybe playing Novak or Rafa in the semis of a Major. He’s been in 11 Grand Slam finals, Andy Murray.
“At the end of my career, it was hard to accept you weren’t the player you once were. Deep down, I think he thinks that he can still do it.”
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