x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Injury-free and ready to rule again

Roger Federer is looking to carry the momentum he garnered from the middle of 2009 into the new year and Doha now that his back has fully healed.

Federer throws his arm band to the crowd at the Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
Federer throws his arm band to the crowd at the Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.

Roger Federer is looking to carry the momentum he garnered from the middle of 2009 into the new year now that his back has fully healed. The world No 1 lost to Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic early last year before recovering to reach the final in all four grand slam events, winning his first French Open and then Wimbledon for his 15th major title to surpass Pete Sampras' record.

"Last year, I had a problem at the start of the season with my back," Federer said yesterday. "I lost to Murray, Djokovic and Rafa, who got the better of me at the start of the season. "But I feel fine now because I have been practising enough to feel confident of winning." Federer, who finished third in the Capitala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, faces Christophe Rochus of Belgium in his first match at the Qatar Open in Doha, which begins today.

"It is hard to be competing against the best, but I know I can win more tournaments this year," said Federer. "I have been practising good. The end season was short, so I feel my game is where it is supposed to be. I know I can make a few adjustments to my game and play well again." Nadal suffered injuries to his knees and abdomen last year but was firing on all cylinders as he won the second annual Capitala tournament. The world No 2 appears to be in the easier half of the Doha draw and begins with what should be a routine encounter with Italy's Simone Bolelli to determine the right to face either another Italian Potito Starace or Federico Gil of Portugal in the second round.

However, last year's winner, Andy Murray, will not play in the event as he prepares for the Australian Open later this month. And the Briton has also decided not to play for Britain in their Davis Cup tie with Lithuania in March. "We have talented young players who need Davis Cup experience to help with their career development," he said. Meanwhile, the returning Justine Henin, who dominated the women's game before going into temporary retirement, faces the most demanding task on her return to the sport.

Henin, 27, who will begin her comeback in Brisbane today as she strives to regain match sharpness in advance of the Australian Open, had to take her chance as a wildcard in the draw despite her lofty reputation. She avoided her compatriot Kim Clijsters, who is top seed in Brisbane and made a winning start to the new campaign yesterday, but instead came out alongside the powerful Russian Nadia Petrova, the second seed.

It will be Henin's first match since her shock announcement to quit in 2008 and tennis enthusiasts will be hoping, irrespective of what happens against Petrova, for a second coming to rival that of Clijsters, who won the US Open last September a month after returning to the tour. Clijsters, who had been inactive since October, earned a second round date with local favourite Alicia Molik by overcoming Italy's Tathiana Garbin for the loss of only three games.

"I think you need to find a good balance between being relaxed and being on top of your game, especially at the start of the season," said Clijsters. "There's a few details that can always get better." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae