New Delhi: Every year in a cramped schedule, tennis gods continue to serve out their best rivalries. But in recent times, none has come closer to the one between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
There used to be Federer against Rafael Nadal. But, since the Spaniard's downfall, the tag of greatest rivalry in tennis belongs to the one between Federer and Djokovic, with the Swiss maestro being the constant force, for more than a decade.
The Serbian world number one has rightfully replaced Nadal in tennis' own Clasico and a new chapter will be added on Thursday in Melbourne when Djokovic meets Federer.
Season opening Australian Open is often the launching pad to a season for any player. A triumphant outing in Melbourne, in January, is considered a good omen for any of the modern day legends. And when two such legends meet, the fixture automatically demands everything gladiators deserve. They not merely play, they put everything into it.
Thursday's meeting between the undisputed world number one and the 17-time Grand Slam champion has all the aspects of becoming a modern classic.
With a head-to-head record of 22-22, anyone who wins at Rod Laver Arena will become the favourite to win the tournament and equal Aussie great Roy Emerson`s Open Era record of six Australian Open titles.
Their 44 meetings is only the second highest rivalry tally in the Open era, beaten by the 47 between Djokovic and Nadal.
If recent records are to be considered, 28-year-old Serbian will start as the clear favourite, but Federer, at 34, is still the guy. And the fervent support Federer has in Australia, or for that matter of fact, anywhere in the world, will always be one part to negotiate for any player standing against the Swiss.
Djokovic was 5-3 with Federer last year, with all of those coming at big ones – finals at Wimbledon, US Open, ATP World Tour Finals, Indian Wells and Rome. But the start of the new year witnessed Djokovic, somehow, letting himself down, more glaringly against a steadfast Giles Simon in the fourth round.
In contrast, Federer has a rather smooth sail, only dropping a set to Grigor Dimitrov in the third round. But despite dropping a set more than the Swiss, Djokovic has has never lost in the semi-finals of the tournament.
Djokovic missed out a rare Grand Slam last year, losing to Stan Wawrinka at Roland Garros.
Federer has not won a grand slam title since 2012.
Head to head - 33:33
60 career titles for Djokovic
88 career titles for Federer
$94,251,218 career prize money for Djokovic
$97,341,456 career prize money for Federer
Where and when to watch:
Date: January 28, 2016
Time: 14:00 IST
Venue: Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
TV Listing: Sony ESPN and Sony ESPN HD in India, with the online live streaming option on Sonyliv.