Federer says he's 100 percent after illness, ready to chase 3rd straight Aussie Open title
By JOHN PYE, AP Sports Writer
January 13, 2008
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Roger Federer is putting his name on his apparel just as he hopes to put his stamp on the Australian Open with a third straight title.
Given his penchant for perfection and fashion, it seemed symbolic Sunday when Federer pulled a hat trick of sorts.
On the eve of the tournament, the world's top-ranked player wore a black ball cap emblazoned with a stylized version of his initials during his first public appearance at Melbourne Park.
Federer, who figured in the last 10 Grand Slam finals and won eight of them, comes into the season's first major without a competitive match in two months after withdrawing from his regular tuneup event at Kooyong because of a stomach virus.
The first order of business Sunday was quashing any suggestion that the week he spent getting rid of the bug upset his preparations to win his 13th Grand Slam title and move within one of Pete Sampras' all-time record.
"It's been some sort of a different preparation to some other Grand Slams," he said of a buildup restricted to hitting with Swiss Davis Cup captain Serevin Luethi.
"It's always tough in Australia because you don't have many matches coming in, but I'm very much used to it -- not playing for four to six weeks and then coming in and playing a big tournament.
"So for me, it's not much of a change."
Just to be clear, he reiterated: "Physically I'm fine now, no more issues. I would consider myself 100 percent."
He is cautious, however, having lost six times in the first round of a major -- though not since he took over the No. 1 ranking in February 2004. He requested and received a Tuesday start against 107th-ranked Diego Hartfield of Argentina to get some extra practice on the new, blue Plexicushion surface.
"I know the difficulties of a first round. They're never easy, no matter how you enter, with full confidence or little," he said.
In previous years here, as defending champion, he has had a first-day start.
Women's champion Serena Williams will play the tournament's first match, on center court.
And two former women's champions who weren't in Melbourne last year when Williams made her remarkable run to her eighth Grand Slam title are also in action on the opening day.
No. 1 Justine Henin was going through a divorce and skipped the last event, and Lindsay Davenport was pregnant with her first child and on a break from the tour.
Both come to Melbourne in sparkling form.
Henin won the French and U.S. Opens and the season-ending championship, then added the Sydney International title on Friday to enter the season's first major on a 28-match winning streak.
Her only loss in six months was against Marion Bartoli in the Wimbledon semifinals.
Henin reached the final here in 2006 but had to retire against Amelie Mauresmo because of stomach cramps, to the ire of critics who questioned her decision.
"I feel comfortable with what happened two years ago -- and last year everyone knows why I wasn't here," she said on the eve of her opening match against Japan's Aiko Nakamura. "I don't have the feeling I have anything to prove to anyone. I just have a lot of motivation."
The 31-year-old Davenport has won three titles and is 18-1 since returning to the tour following the birth of her son, Jagger, last June.
But her low ranking, No. 52, meant the winner of 54 tour titles was unseeded for the draw and put her on a collision course with last year's runner-up, Maria Sharapova, in the second round.
Davenport opens her campaign on the court at Margaret Court Arena against Italy's Sara Errani, while fifth-seeded Sharapova is on Vodafone Arena court against Jelena Kostanic Tosic of Croatia.
No. 3 Jelena Jankovic faces Tamira Paszek in the other women's showcourt matches.
On the men's side, No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, the only player to beat Federer at the last 10 Grand Slams -- at the last two French Opens -- plays Viktor Troicki of Serbia in the night match on center court.
Sixth-seeded Andy Roddick faces Czech qualifier Lukas Dlouhy and No. 9 Andy Murray has a challenging opener against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.
Nikolay Davydenko, still subject to a gambling probe by the ATP that has been running since last August, will play Michael Llodra.
Organizers have banned onsite gambling and blocked gambling Web sites from publicly accessible computers at Melbourne Park.
For those who could bet, the odds on Serena Williams winning in Melbourne would be a lot lower than those offered 12 months ago.
She is fitter and trimmer than she was in '07. She entered with a No. 81 ranking, but beat six seeded players and capped it with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Sharapova in the final.
Williams' expectations are so high for a title defense that she did not even know who her first-round rival was when asked on Saturday, two days before she was due to start.
She will know by the time she walks onto the court at Rod Laver Arena on Monday that she is playing Jarmila Gajdosova, a Slovakian player representing Australia and ranked No. 145 at the end of last season.
PREVIEW-Tennis-Open-Federer to begin title bid under lights
MELBOURNE, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Roger Federer will take centre stage at the Australian Open on Tuesday when he begins the defence of his title under the lights at Melbourne Park.
The Swiss world number one and top seed, chasing his 13th grand slam crown, completes the night session on Rod Laver Arena against Argentine Diego Hartfield, the world number 107.
A stomach virus disrupted Federer's preparations for the first grand slam event of the year, but the top seed is confident he will cope at the start of his bid for a third successive Australian Open title.
"I'm very much used to it, not playing for four weeks or six weeks and then coming in and playing a big tournament, so for me it's not much of a change," Federer said.
Roger Federer - It goes without saying that the best player in the world is favoured to win one of the four majors, especially as he makes such a habit of it. The difference this time is that Federer has not played a competitive match with points at stake since the final of the Masters Cup and that was in the third week of November. He cannot be sure where his levels are and thus he is vulnerable to an early shock which may be provided by either Fabrice Santoro or John Isner - the veteran Frenchman and the American who seems as tall as Melbourne's Eureka Tower - in the second round. If he gets through week one, expect him to be standing with silverware in his arms at the end of week two.
Hola beautiful Mrs. B :wavey: :kiss:
Odds-on Federer, but Murray can stake claim
Richard Evans in Melbourne
It has to be Roger Federer: the phenomenal Swiss is odds-on favourite to rewrite the record books once again by retaining his Australian Open crown. A win would make him the first player since Roy Emerson in 1965 to win three Australian titles in a row and also bring Federer his 13th grand-slam title, one short of Pete Sampras.
However, there are other names one must consider and Andy Murray's should be high among them. If confirmation of that fact was needed, beating Nikolay Davydenko on his way to winning the ATP title in Qatar two weeks ago was sufficient.
Murray is not only a wondrously talented tennis player, but is also a tough character. Federer is tough, too. It is just that he does not appear to be. Murray, in contrast, has had a difficult time concealing the rougher edges of his personality but, having been ear-bashed for months on end by his former coach Brad Gilbert, he probably has a better understanding of how to measure his words.
'I've never been more content before a slam,' he was saying after three exhibition matches at Kooyong, two of which he won in temperatures that soared well past the 100-degree mark. But he has no illusions about the strength of the opposition he will face in the first round. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ended Tim Henman's grand-slam career at the US Open, but big servers do not pose so much threat to a player with Murray's court craft. For a start, the return of serve is one of the Scot's greatest strengths and his racket skills are such that he has the ability to manoeuvre big men around the court at will. This was what happened on the only occasion he and Tsonga have met - three months ago in Metz when Murray won 6-3 6-3. If Murray gets past that obstacle, he will probably find himself having to deal with Mikail Youzhny, the ever-improving Russian, while, later, Andy Roddick and number-two seed Rafael Nadal will loom large.