Federer faces a monster and a first round shock
Roger Federer returns to competition next week for the first time since his shock defeat in the Australian Open six weeks ago, determined to tackle the monster which chases him.
The recovery from his semifinal setback against Novak Djokovic in January in Melbourne could hardly begin in a better place than the Dubai Open, for the Gulf city is like a second home for him.
However, Federer admitted recently that he has "created a monster" for himself by his astonishing run of success which includes the capture of 12 Grand Slam titles in 19 tries and in only four and half years.
It means that the world number one from Switzerland has to live with a pressure of expectations greater than any other player in tennis history, and seeks to find ways of avoiding rather than repeatedly trying to slay the monster.
Here in Dubai where Federer owns a second home, comes for holidays, and sometimes takes training breaks, it should be a much easier place than most for him to achieve this necessary frame of mind.
He may also find a little relief in that, although he himself is the top-seeded titleholder, another of the leading contenders is Djokovic, on to whom some of the pressure will now be projected.
Federer may therefore adopt the attitude that, having inadvertently reminded the world that he is only human, it is the world number three from Serbia who has to show he can repeat performances as brilliant as those which led to his first Grand Slam title the month before last.
Another big star in the exceptional Dubai Open mix is Rafael Nadal, the world number two from Spain, who is sometimes regarded just as a clay court specialist but who beat Federer on the hard courts here in the 2006 final.
Nadal is still desperate to find a way to topple Federer from the pinnacle he has occupied in the rankings for more than four years, and perhaps with this image partly in mind the Spaniard will be scaling the world's tallest building Sunday morning for a photo-shoot.
The aspiring rankings–topper will ascend in a pod on the outside of the incomplete Burj Dubai, which became became the world's tallest eight months ago, and is still moving skywards.
Currently it is at about 600 metres, and will eventually become 800m high when it is finished. Fortunately neither in a professional nor in a physiological sense, has vertigo ever seemed a problem for the Spaniard.
A draw containing the world's top seven players and eight of the top ten is testimony not only to the attractiveness of the venue and the quality of the hospitality but the tournament's capacity to pay the highest appearance money in the world.
This may bring cynical comments about materialism, but Federer has always denied that money is his main motivation.
"For me, it's always been, first of all, my dream to be able to play at Wimbledon and play different tournaments, and not to be a millionaire," he once said.
"That was not my goal. It was maybe having a comfortable living eventually, not having to think about it. That's what I've earned. For me, making four, seven million dollars a year, one, it doesn't matter much. It's about winning the titles and being healthy to play tennis."
Federer concluded: "In the first place, why do we play tennis? It's not to make money; it's to chase our dream, you know. It happened that we have a lot of money in tennis, and that is obviously good for us now. But it's thanks to the generations before us who got the tennis where it is today."
However it has led to his having a tougher first round draw than he could have had anywhere else in the world: Federer will face Andy Murray, the world number 12 from Britain, possibly on Tuesday night.
This is the only ATP tournament in the world where someone ranked as high as Murray could be unseeded.
That is because, despite a draw stronger than some Masters Series events – the second highest level on the tour – it has only a 32 draw and therefore only eight seeds.
Moreover the last time Federer played Murray, 19 months ago in Cincinnati, he lost. The memory may galvanise him to be at his best from the start. (AFP)
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