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Facing a new set of challenges

Federer's '06 season was epic, with one caveat: he just missed Grand Slam. His quest begins anew at Australian Open.

January 14, 2007|From the Associated Press

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — All the brilliant numbers came down to one simple equation for Roger Federer: He was two sets short of a Grand Slam season.

Federer returns to Melbourne Park as the overwhelming favorite and defending Australian Open champion, one of three majors he won last year while compiling a 92-5 record.

Four of his losses were against second-ranked Rafael Nadal, including the French Open final when he won the first set before going down in four.

Federer was the first man since Rod Laver completed his second Grand Slam -- winning all four majors -- in 1969 to make the finals in all four majors in a single season.

But that was not quite good enough for the 25-year-old Swiss. Federer skipped his regular season opener at the Qatar Open, deciding he needed a breather.

"You have to look at the big picture," he said. "I wanted to have a life, you know, have Christmas and New Year's and come here rested and not exhausted already. For me, it was most important to come to Melbourne in the mood to win the Australian Open, not come here and feel like it's a pain."

He did some work in Dubai, then arrived in Australia a week earlier than usual.

After a patchy first match back, coming within two points of defeat against Radek Stepanek, Federer advanced to the final of the Kooyong exhibition tournament with a convincing win over 2005 Australian Open champion Marat Safin.

"It's going to be really tough for people to beat me here," he said.

Federer got no favors in the draw Friday. His third- and fourth-round opponents could be U.S. Open semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny and former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero. Last year's surprise finalist, Marcos Baghdatis, looms as a quarterfinal rival.

Andy Roddick or Ivan Ljubicic are semifinal candidates. Nadal also has a tough draw on the other side, with a tricky opener against Robert Kendrick, a possible third-round match with Andy Murray and either James Blake or Lleyton Hewitt after that. Then there are possible showdowns with No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko or David Nalbandian.

While Federer's domination is daunting for the other men on tour, there has been no equivalent figure on the women's side in recent years.

U.S. Open champion Maria Sharapova is top-seeded after No. 1-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne withdrew for undisclosed family reasons.

"I don't see it as putting any extra pressure on me," said Sharapova, a semifinalist or better at seven of the last 10 majors. "Whatever you are seeded, you've got to go out and play your matches."

No. 2 Amelie Mauresmo's win here last year was a personal breakthrough -- her first Grand Slam title -- but she said she was unhappy with her form in a quarterfinal loss to Jelena Jankovic in Sydney.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Facts and figures

World No. 1 Roger Federer, below, opens his Australian Open title defense against Bjorn Phau of Germany in the first round:

THE FACTS

* When: Today through Jan. 28.

* Where: Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia.

TOP SEEDED MEN

1. Roger Federer, Switzerland

2. Rafael Nadal, Spain

3. Nikolay Davydenko, Russia

4. Ivan Ljubicic, Croatia

5. James Blake, United States

6. Andy Roddick, United States

7. Tommy Robredo, Spain

8. David Nalbandian, Argentina

9. Mario Ancic, Croatia

10. Fernando Gonzalez, Chile

11. Marcos Baghdatis, Cyprus

12. Tommy Haas, Germany

13. Tomas Berdych, Czech Rep.

14. Novak Djokovic, Serbia

15. Andy Murray, Britain

16. David Ferrer, Spain

TOP SEEDED WOMEN

1. Maria Sharapova, Russia

2. Amelie Mauresmo, France

3. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia

4. Kim Clijsters, Belgium

5. Nadia Petrova, Russia

6. Martina Hingis, Switzerland

7. Elena Dementieva, Russia

8. Patty Schnyder, Switzerland

9. Dinara Safina, Russia

10. Nicole Vaidisova, Czech Rep.

11. Jelena Jankovic, Serbia

12. Anna Chakvetadze, Russia

13. Ana Ivanovic, Serbia

14. Francesca Schiavone, Italy

15. Daniela Hantuchova, Slovakia

16. Shahar Peer, Israel

FOR STARTERS

Selected first-round matchups (wc--wild card):

MEN

* Roger Federer (1), Switzerland, vs. Bjorn Phau, Germany

* Marcos Baghdatis (11), Cyprus, vs. Rainer Schuettler, Germany

* Jose Acasuso (27), Argentina, vs. wc-Sam Querrey

* Ivan Ljubicic (4), Croatia,

vs. Mardy Fish

* Andy Roddick (6)

vs. wc-Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, France

* Nikolay Davydenko (3), Russia, vs. Sergio Roitman, Argentina

* James Blake (5) vs. Carlos Moya, Spain

* Nicolas Almagro (32), Spain, vs. Robby Ginepri

* Jarkko Nieminen (17), Finland, vs. Paul Goldstein

* Stanislas Wawrinka (31), Switzerland, vs. Kevin Kim

* Rafael Nadal (2), Spain, vs. Robert Kendrick

WOMEN

* Maria Sharapova (1), Russia, vs. Camille Pin, France

* Ana Ivanovic (13), Serbia, vs. Vania King

* Kim Clijsters (4), Belgium, vs. Vasilisa Bardina, Russia

* Martina Hingis (6), Switzerland, vs. Nathalie Dechy, France

* Mara Santangelo (27), Italy, vs. Serena Williams

* Amelie Mauresmo (2), France, vs. Shenay Perry

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