x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Federer close to record slam

Mononucleosis is the medical term to describe the handicap Roger Federer faced when attempting to defend his Australian Open championship a year ago.

Roger Federer, in action in Doha, is  confident he is in good shape physically to try to win more grand slam titles this year.
Roger Federer, in action in Doha, is confident he is in good shape physically to try to win more grand slam titles this year.

Mononucleosis is the medical term to describe the handicap Roger Federer faced when making a gallant, but vain, attempt to defend his Australian Open championship a year ago. A blood disorder is how the layman would describe the debilitating illness the then world No 1 contracted towards the end of 2007 and struggled to shake off during the early part of the 2008 season. Those fitness problems are now happily behind the engaging Swiss, winner of the last grand slam in New York in September, and homing in on the next in Melbourne later this month.

Any grand slam from now on assumes massive importance for Federer, still only 27 despite his presence in the vanguard of the men's game for nearly a decade. He needs just one more title from the big four venues to draw level with his former idol Pete Sampras on 14. Both amassed their tremendous hauls of major honours without triumphing at Roland Garros. With Rafael Nadal, who deposed Federer last summer as the new world No 1, in no mood to pass on his crown as the "King of Clay" after winning the French Open for the last four years, it is logical to assume that Federer will have to equal the record at Melbourne Park, Wimbledon or Flushing Meadows.

Considering he has won five times in London and New York, it is somewhat surprising that Federer's prolonged spell of dominance brought "only" three Australian Open titles in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Listening to him at this week's Qatar Open in Doha, he is relishing the chance to create a more even balance and relished in the opportunity to engage in psychological warfare with his main rivals. Reassured by the fact that his position as second seed to Nadal in Melbourne is assured following Novak Djokovic's shock early exit from the Brisbane tournament on Tuesday, Federer started speculating about what might happen at the top of the rankings before the end of the month.

"There could be a really big switch," he said with a wide grin as he prepared for last night's Doha quarter-final against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber. "Much is going to depend on the Australian Open from a rankings point of view. "There so are many points to defend there. Djokovic has the title to defend from last year while [Andy] Murray has only a first- round defeat. There goes a gap of 2,000 points if Djokovic lost in the first round and Murray wins the tournament."

"Murray has definitely caught up in the battle for the top positions. It is a tough thing for all of us because so many other guys are waiting for us not to be at our best. "It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few weeks because the other three players in the top four are all still quite young. "One thing is for sure, it is going to be an exciting start to the season and I'm looking forward to being part of it."

Federer who has recovered from the back injury which impaired his mobility in the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai, won by the world No 3 Djokovic last November, feasted on Italian during the early stages of a Doha tournament he has won twice previously. The second seed followed up his facile first-round victory over Potito Starace with a more impressive eclipsing of Andreas Seppi and reflected: "I am happy with the way I'm playing so early in the year.

"It always takes time to get your rhythm back after the off-season. I believe I'm back in the groove already which is very encouraging. "I had the match in Abu Dhabi and my matches here and I'm definitely moving in the right direction." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae