Aiming for the top,Down Under

Despite a below-par 2008 and tough competition,Federer exudes confidence ahead of year’s first Slam

Written by Reuters | Melbourne | Published: January 19, 2009 11:42 pm

Rafael Nadal swiped his top ranking and his Wimbledon crown,Andy Murray stole his thunder when a number of bookmakers installed him as favourite for the Australian Open,but Roger Federer is still the man to beat when the first Grand Slam of the year kicks off on Monday.

The Swiss is gunning for a record-equalling 14th Grand Slam singles crown in Australia and is exuding a confidence sufficient to chill the field. “It comes down to playing well here,being fit and ready to go,” the Swiss smiled on Sunday. “I feel the way I was hoping to feel just before the Australian Open. I’m excited.” Last year,Federer’s preparations were destroyed by glandular fever and no match practice — this year things could hardly be more different after winning the Kooyong Classic warm-up this week. “I was quite concerned going into last year’s Australian Open just because I didn’t have any matches whatsoever. This time around I know exactly where my game is.” Seeded second this year behind Nadal,Federer opens his campaign against Italy’s Andreas Seppi on Monday night.

No worries

Nadal starts against Belgium’s Christophe Rochus and insists a lack of match practice and two months off recuperating from tendonitis in his knee should not affect his attempts to win his first Australian title. “I am practising well but I don’t have a lot of matches to know exactly how I am. But I am okay,” he told reporters.

Murray is the player on everyone’s lips after a white-hot start to the season,and he faces Romania’s Andrei Pavel first up. “I don’t have a problem whether I’m a favourite or not,” he said. “When you do become a contender for a Slam,obviously the seeding and stuff helps with your draws. It gives you that little bit of extra confidence.”

Defending champion Novak Djokovic is seeded third and faces Italian qualifier Andre Stoppini on the opening day. Women’s top seed Jelena Jankovic goes seeking her first Grand Slam title with a match against Austria’s Yvonne Meusburger. “My time will come,” she said. “This is one of my goals,to win a Grand Slam.”

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