Roger Federer, recovering from a stomach virus and not having played a competitive match since November, says he is on course for a third consecutive Australian title.This content was published on January 13, 2008 - 18:39
Aiming for his 13th grand slam title, the Swiss tennis world number one opens against Argentina's Diego Hartfield on Monday.
In Friday's draw for the year's first grand slam title, Federer landed in the same half as No. 3 Novak Djokovic and four former Australian Open finalists.
James Blake and Tomas Berdych are also in his quarter and, if seeded players progress on rankings, Federer will meet No. 7 Fernando Gonzalez in the quarterfinals – a rematch of last year's Australian Open final.
Djokovic looms in the semis if the Serb can get past a tough quarter that includes former Australian Open champions Marat Safin and Thomas Johansson, both unseeded, and former finalists Marcos Baghdatis (2006) and Lleyton Hewitt (2005).
Federer is one of four Swiss competing in Melbourne: Stanislas Wawrinka is 26th seed in the men's draw and in the women's draw 15th-seed Patty Schnyder is joined by qualifier Timea Bacsinszky.
This week Federer knocked up with Swiss Davis Cup captain Severin Lüthi at Melbourne Park's centre court with Federer's girlfriend, Mirka Vavrinec, collecting wayward balls.
This is a radically different build-up to the tournament for Federer. Unable to enter his regular preparation match, the Kooyong exhibition tournament, because of a stomach illness, Federer has been easing himself back into shape for his first competitive tennis in two months.
But Federer isn't worried, saying he wouldn't have hung around Melbourne if he didn't believe he could win the Australian Open, which starts on Monday.
"I definitely think it's going to turn for the good and I'll be 100 per cent, really, before the tournament," he said.
No. 6 Andy Roddick, who beat Federer in the Kooyong final last year before losing a one-sided semi-final at the Australian Open, joked: "I can safely say none of us here is worried about Roger's preparations for the Australian Open – I think I'll sleep OK!"
Roddick added that Federer would cope better than most put in the same situation.
"If there's anybody who can take care of himself and play his way into form, it's Roger."
Federer is aiming to be the first man to win three consecutive Australian Opens in the Open era (post-1968) and wants to add to his run of ten consecutive grand slam finals.
To do it at Rod Laver Arena, he'll also have to contend with a new surface: the blue Plexicushion that replaced the Rebound Ace at Melbourne Park.
And while he's had some practice on the new surface, competitors such as Roddick, Safin, Fernando Gonzalez and Marcos Baghdatis – the last two were runners-up in the Australian Open – have been getting match practice on the Plexicushion across town at Kooyong.
On the plus side for Federer is that three players who have beaten him more than once since he assumed the No. 1 ranking in 2004 also have not had match time on the new surface.
David Nalbandian had to withdraw from Kooyong after experiencing back spasms in a practice session. Fellow Argentine Guillermo Canas is injured and out of the Australian Open, and second seed Rafael Nadal has not played competitively since the final at Chennai, India, last week.
Nalbandian expected to be fit by the weekend and was hoping for another chance against Federer. He is 8-8 against the Swiss star and, like the other top players, he is glad to have any opening, however small, against the world's best player.
"It's motivation – he's the No. 1 in the world and he just lost a few matches in the [last] year," he said.
swissinfo with agencies
The Australian Open is one of four grand slam tournaments of the ATP circuit.
The others are the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Australia's Rod Laver was the last man to win all four grand slam events in the same year (1969). Steffi Graf did it in 1988 (also winning the Olympic Gold).
Federer has clinched three of the grand slam tournaments three times(2004, 2006 and 2007), but has never won the French Open.
2007 match record: 68-9
2007 singles titles: 8
Career singles titles: 53
Grand slam titles: 12 – Australian Open (2004, 2006, 2007), Wimbledon (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007), US Open (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007)
Past five Australian Opens: He won the event in 2007, 2006 and 2004. He lost in the semi-finals in 2005 and went out in the fourth round in 2003.
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