Federer piles on pressure, calls Nadal ‘favorite’

Reigning champion Roger Federer Saturday piled pressure on Rafael Nadal by calling him "favorite" for the Australian Open, where the Spaniard is gunning for his fourth major title in a row.

Federer said he was sure the world No. 1 would be untroubled by his recent illness as he bids to unite all four Grand Slams for the first time since 1969.

"He’s been the one dominating the Slams," Federer said. "Had hardly any tough matches in the last three Slams. That makes him favorite. I don’t have any problems not being favorite, really."

Defeat in Melbourne would leave Federer without a Grand Slam title in his locker for the first time since 2003, when he began his world record run of 16 major titles with his maiden Wimbledon win.

Nadal is bidding to emulate Federer’s idol Rod Laver by adding the Australian title to his French Open, Wimbledon and US Open crowns, which would put him on 10 Grand Slam wins.

The Spaniard, 24, is trying to shake off a fever which saw him heavily beaten in the Qatar Open semis.

He was forced to retire hurt from last year’s Australian Open quarter-finals with a knee injury which kept him sidelined for nearly two months, before returning to capture three Grand Slam trophies on three surfaces.

"He’s been playing incredible," Federer said of Nadal. "[He had] an incredible run through the French [Open], Wimbledon, U.S. Open. It was incredible to see.

"Then obviously it’s hard to maintain. But he’s going to be for ready for this. I’ll follow it very closely. If I get a chance, I hope I can stop him, obviously."

Four-time champion Federer is in the opposite half of the draw and cannot meet Nadal until the final. In 2009, the Swiss was left in tears when Nadal beat him in front of Laver and other greats in a classic, five-set final.

Online bookmaker sportsbet.com.au has named Federer, 29, and Nadal joint favorites at odds of 2-1.