Federer starts season on track for another record
Another season, another potential tennis record for Roger Federer.
But this one is a bit different. The celebrated Swiss star doesn't actually need to win a match, he just needs to show up and play - at each of the year's four Grand Slams.
If he does, Federer will tally 56 consecutive Grand Slam singles tournaments, which would equal the record held by retired South African player Wayne Ferreira.
So far, so good. Federer will mark his 53rd straight when the Australian Open starts Monday, making him not just one of the greatest players in tennis history but also one of the sport's most enduring.
''I'm still here,'' said a smiling Federer, looking relaxed and confident at a packed pre-tournament press conference Saturday. ''Longevity has always been something that's important to me,''
The 17-time Grand Slam winner has been winning major titles since 2003 - and said he was once a ball boy for Ferreira who retired in 2005.
''I'm excited that I've played so many in a row, and I hope I can keep the streak alive - and see where it stops. We'll see how it goes.''
For the moment, more immediate records beckon.
At age 31, Federer is in pursuit of his 18th Grand Slam title. If he wins the title at Melbourne Park, it would make him the only man to win more than four Australian Open trophies in the Open era.
It would also allow Federer, the reigning Wimbledon champion, to join a club of only five men to have won two or more Grand Slam titles after turning 30. The others are Agassi, Jimmy Connors in the 80s, Ken Rosewell a decade earlier, and Rod Laver in 1969.
Until his Wimbledon win, Federer had been widely viewed as a champion in decline, eclipsed by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But his win returned him to the top the ATP rankings for the first time since June 2010, matching Pete Sampras' record of 286 weeks at No. 1.
Mindful of his place in history and his aging body, Federer has scaled back his schedule. He arrives in Melbourne more rested than usual after having taken several weeks off from tennis and public appearances.
''It's been very relaxing.'' said Federer, who is now ranked No. 2 and faces Benoit Paire of France in the first round. ''I purposely didn't play any lead-up tournament so that I'd be fresh for the beginning, hopefully going deep into (this) tournament. That's the goal obviously.''
Injury has hobbled Nadal, who was sidelined since June with tendinitis in his left knee and is not competing in Melbourne.
Federer's biggest obstacles remain top-ranked Djokovic, who is aiming for a third consecutive Australian Open title, and No. 3 Andy Murray, who is on a roll after his breakthrough win at the London Olympics followed by his first major title at the U.S. Open.
The 25-year-old Murray landed in the same half of the draw as Federer, meaning they could potentially meet in the semifinals. The winner of that match could face a final against Djokovic - a matchup that Murray knows well.
''They're incredibly tough, physical matches,'' said Murray, who beat Djokovic to win the U.S Open final after losing to the Serb in last year's Australian Open semifinal. ''We played quite a few good ones last year in some of the biggest events.''
''If I get to play Novak here, that would mean it would be in the final. So obviously that's what I would like to do,'' Murray said.
Djokovic had kind words for Murray's accomplishments.
''He has become a Grand Slam and Olympic champion. It's something not many players in history have done,'' Djokovic said. ''He's great. I think mentally something switched in his head and he just started believing much more in his abilities.''
The 25-year-old Djokovic is aiming for his third consecutive Australian Open win, a feat no other player has achieved in the Open era. But he didn't want to discuss that.
''This is my most successful Grand Slam,'' he said. ''But this Grand Slam is also known for a lot of surprises.''
Djokovic begins his title defense with a first-round match against Paul-Henri Mathieu, while Murray faces Robin Hasse.