Australian Open 2015: Aljaz Bedene, the 'Plastic Brit' who has sights set on Novak Djokovic

UK-based Slovenian Bedene feels he can profit from world No 1’s shaky build-up 

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The Independent Online

Aljaz Bedene says his “life goal” is to play for Britain in the Davis Cup but, for the moment, another target is in his sights. The 25-year-old Slovenian, who is seeking to change nationality after basing himself in Britain for the past seven years, has the awesome task of taking on Novak Djokovic on Tuesday as the world No 1 begins his campaign to win the Australian Open for a fifth time.

Bedene, nevertheless, has played 11 matches this year and lost only once. Having won three matches to qualify for the Chennai Open in the first week of the season, he went on to reach the final – beating two top-20 players along the way in Feliciano Lopez and Roberto Bautista Agut – before losing to Stan Wawrinka. In qualifying for the main draw here, he dropped only one set in winning his three matches.

The idea of the world No 116 toppling the No 1 might seem fanciful, but Djokovic has not been in the best of health recently. He pulled out of his scheduled final against Andy Murray in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi a fortnight ago because of illness, lost to Ivo Karlovic in the quarter-finals of his only warm-up tournament in Doha and admitted yesterday that he had suffered “a little bit with the flu and stomach”.

Bedene said he “wasn’t too disappointed” when he learned the identity of his first-round opponent. “It could have been better because I feel like I can do some damage in the main draw, but it will be exciting,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it and will try to show everything I can. I wouldn’t have chosen him but it’s good to see where I am and where I need to improve.

“It’s unlucky for him if he feels a bit ill or whatever, but I need to show everything and try to surprise him. I think he is the best player in the world when he plays his best – no offence to Roger [Federer]. I love how he moves on the court, his shots, he has improved his serve, his all-round play, which I am trying to achieve as well.”

Bedene moved to Britain in 2008 in search of better training facilities. He trains at the Gosling academy in Welwyn Garden City, where he lives with his fiancée, a Slovenian singer called Kimalie. They have a mutual friend in the musician Jeff Wayne, of War of the Worlds fame, who helps with her career and has captained the Hertfordshire tennis team and been a tennis coach.

“I love it in Welwyn Garden City,” Bedene said. “It’s quiet, I can focus on tennis only. I feel my tennis is progressing probably because of that. I have no distractions whatsoever because I have a lot of family and friends in Slovenia. And I only want to focus on tennis. I’m planning to live [in Britain] after my career as well. It’s just a nice place to live. I wouldn’t say it’s the cheapest place to live but it’s great and it’s quiet.”

Bedene, who is targeting a place in the world’s top 50 this year and believes he can eventually make the top 10, has adopted Chelsea as his favourite Premier League team but draws a line in his Britishness when it comes to food. “I am not a fan of traditional English dishes, unfortunately,” he said. “If I go to restaurants I go to Chinese – Peking pancakes and stuff. I don’t really like jacket potatoes.”

Having first talked to a Lawn Tennis Association solicitor about the possibility of switching nationality three years ago, Bedene has now submitted his application for a British passport. “I really want to play for Great Britain,” he said. “That’s my life goal.” However, Bedene may never be allowed to line up alongside the likes of Andy Murray in a Davis Cup team.

The International Tennis Federation has just introduced a rule which says that, whatever passport a player holds, he cannot represent a country in the Davis Cup if he has already played for a different team in that competition. Bedene played for Slovenia in three Davis Cup ties, in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The ITF rule came into effect on 1 January and can be applied retrospectively.

Novak-Djokovic.jpg
Novak Djokovic

 

Although Bedene began the process to switch allegiance three years ago, the application to the ITF to change nationality can be completed only when the player has been granted his new passport.

Bedene’s passport application is still a work in progress. He must prove that he is supporting himself financially, having previously been part-funded by his father. The $38,650 (about £25,000) he earned in Chennai and the Aus$32,240 (£17,500) he has already won here will help with that. “I’m paying taxes in England, so that’s a plus, I guess, but I don’t know too much about it,” Bedene said.

If the application to switch Davis Cup nationality is  unsuccessful, Bedene said he would appeal, though he is more concerned at the moment about concentrating on his tennis than the minutiae of form-filling.

Djokovic himself had talks about switching to British nationality when he was a teenager. The world No 1 does not support the change in eligibility rules.

“I think players should be allowed to play for another country if they want,” he said. “In some particular cases, like Bedene, who wants to change for some personal, private or financial reasons – there can be many different reasons why you want to switch your nationality – I think the governing bodies of tennis should allow it.”

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