19 January - 1 February 2015
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Roger Federer

Old foes Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal could have almost high-fived each other between media engagements today, with Nadal finishing his press obligations slightly ahead of Federer.

And if matches play out according to this writer's sentimental leanings, the two will have their next meeting not in the bowels of Rod Laver Arena, but on court in front of 15,000 fans in the semifinals. Not that the former world No.1 is looking that far ahead of course.

“A draw is a draw.  You guys debate it; I play in it.  That's basically it.  I focus round for round.  That's the only focus I need to have.

“You can't win the slam in the first week.  That's my first goal, get through the first week and get into the tournament really.”

Which places the sixth seed's focus squarely on Australian wildcard James Duckworth, Federer's first hurdle in his quest to win his fifth Australian Open and 18th major overall.

"I'm very focused right now on getting through the first week and making sure I get things underway nicely.  I don't really look much further than actually my first‑round opponent always."

It's bad news for Duckworth but the silver lining may be that Federer doesn't have intimate knowledge of the 21-year-old New South Welshman, who played back-to-back marathon five-set matches at the Australian Open in 2013. The first a win against countryman Ben Mitchell, the second a loss to Slovenia’s Blaz Kavcic.

"I don't know him that well, but I know he's got a powerful first serve, likes to play aggressive tennis."

For Federer, coming in as the sixth seed marks the lowest seeding he has had in Melbourne since 2003, six months before he won his first major at Wimbledon.

And while it may be an unfamiliar position for the former world No.1 to be in, it's not bothering him. Or so he says.

"I definitely have less pressure this year, less to lose. I'm not the defending champion or any of that. I should be able to play more freely, and other guys are supposed to make their move or defend.

"Things are maybe a little bit more comfortable this year around.  But at the same time maybe the draw becomes tougher in the process."

While Federer said that he's not one to look beyond his first round match-up, that last sentence indicates that he has perhaps had a tiny peek at what may lie ahead.

And it's not an easy run.

Should Federer make it to that semifinal with Nadal, he would first have to contend with either 2009 semifinalist Fernando Verdasco or his 2013 Wimbledon conqueror Sergiy Stakhovsky in the third round, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round – his quarterfinal opponent in 2013 – and Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.

It was Murray who ended Federer's 2013 tournament in a tough five-set semifinal.

Difficult draw or not, the 32-year-old maintains that he enters the tournament well prepared after making it to the final in Brisbane last week where he lost to Lleyton Hewitt; and, most important of all, he’s feeling fit.

“I haven't been sick or anything for some time.  My back's been in good shape since Hamburg pretty much.  No, you know, setbacks.

“I feel good.  My confidence is there.  I'm happy I played Brisbane, so I know where my game's at.  I've practiced.  Now I'm just managing my energy and my practice sessions, getting used to the conditions here.

“At the end of the day it all comes down to how well I play to see how big my chances are to go really far and win the tournament.” 

Wednesday, 18 February 2015
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