The 12-time Grand Slam champion was forced to end his season early due to an elbow problem and hasn’t played a competitive match since retiring from his quarter-final clash with Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon.
Djokovic has joined an unusually large number of ATP stars on the sidelines this season, with Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic among the most high-profile casualties.
In the absence of the top-five players in 2016, Federer and Nadal have split the four Grand Slams between them and sit atop of the ATP rankings heading into the new season.
The pair embarked on their own comebacks at the start of the year, with Federer struggling with a knee issue and Nadal a wrist problem, and attention has now turned to how the returning gang of 2018 will adapt.
Former world No. 1 Safin is expecting Murray to have plenty of ups and downs, although insists he will struggle to maintain a consistent challenge against the established duo, but he has concluded that Djokovic won’t return to the top level full stop.
‘The next season Nadal and Federer will always be in the lead, while I do not see Djokovic able to return to very high levels, for him it will be a difficult situation,’ he told Live Tennis.
‘Murray will have some highs and lows, but if Nadal and Federer do not hurt, he will not be able to do anything.’