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Federer's stomach bug gives rivals a lift
January 11, 2008 17:47 IST
An innocuous stomach virus may be the advantage the rest of the men's field need to stop world number one Roger Federer [Images] winning his third successive Australian Open title.
The virus forced the 26-year-old to withdraw from his traditional build-up to the Open at the invitational Kooyong Classic and with him also skipping the Doha tournament last week, he will enter Melbourne Park with no match practice.
The last person to enter the season's opening grand slam 'cold' and win the title was Andre Agassi [Images] in 1995, though one of Federer's closest rivals doubts the lack of matches would effect the Swiss too much.
"I can safely say that none of us are worried about Roger's preparations for the Open," world number six Andy Roddick [Images] told reporters ahead of the Jan. 14-27 tournament.
"Obviously this (Kooyong) is good preparation for him. It seems to be a good formula for him to come here and prepare for the Open then go beat up on the rest of us next week.
"It certainly won't help (lack of match practice), but if anyone can take care of himself and play his way into form then it's probably Roger."
Federer, arguably the greatest player to have picked up a tennis racket, is seeking his fourth Australian Open trophy and 13th grand slam title.
He has not been beaten at Melbourne Park since losing to eventual champion Marat Safin [Images] in the 2005 semi-finals and the big Russian, who is now healthy after two years of injury, looms as one of his biggest threats.
The twice grand slam winner, considered by his peers to be one of the few players able to challenge Federer when on form, has been plagued with knee injuries in the past two years but said he feels healthier than he had in "many years".
"I've been suffering from my knee injury that took me quite a long time to recover," said Safin. "Now I feel pretty secure and I can wait for some results."
World number two Rafael Nadal [Images] will again be one of Federer's main rivals for the title at Melbourne Park but the enigmatic David Nalbandian's chances could have ended with a back injury he sustained while practising with Safin earlier this week.
The Argentine, who celebrated his 26th birthday last week, beat Federer and Nadal twice each late last year and has the all-court game to challenge both.
However, back spasms on Wednesday forced him off the court against Safin and doctors advised him to rest for at least four days, cutting short his preparations.
Novak Djokovic, who beat Federer in the final of the Montreal Masters before losing to the world number one in the US Open final, will be looking to cement his top-three status.
Roddick said it would be interesting to see how the Serb responded to the added pressure.
"He had a good year last year, now he is number three in the world and people will be coming after him," said Roddick.
Local favourite Lleyton Hewitt [Images], who has long campaigned for Australian Open organisers to speed up the courts, could struggle on the new Plexicushion courts with several players indicating they think they are slower than the old Rebound Ace surface.
Hewitt's preparations also suffered with a loss to compatriot Chris Guccione at the Sydney International tournament.
He has also not beaten Federer since a Davis Cup match in 2003, though that stomach virus may be the key to Hewitt becoming the first local man to lift the Australian Open trophy since 1976.
Nadal, Djokovic, Roddick, Safin et al not withstanding.