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Federer eyes fresh 'fairytale' as Slam rivals struggle

AFP  |  Melbourne 

The prospects of an unprecedented 20th Grand Slam victory have strengthened for ageless wonder as his main rivals flounder ahead of the

The 36-year-old is coming off an extraordinary 2017, when he won a fifth title and a record eighth at Wimbledon, and there could be yet more glory with a depleted field of top contenders in

and Japan's are already out of the year's opening Grand Slam with injuries, while 12-time major champion is troubled by an elbow complaint and hasn't played for six months.

World number one withdrew from his first tour event of 2018, in Brisbane, with continuing knee problems, and is seeking match practice in a exhibition event ahead of the January 15 start.

The 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka, who hasn't played since last year's and subsequent knee surgery, has had little warm-up work and is no longer with his four-year

Yet amid it all Federer keeps going, winning all his matches at the mixed-teams in this month and seemingly injury-free.

"I just have to pace myself all the way up to the tournament in Melbourne, and I'll be ready," he said after his final victory with team-mate Belinda Bencic.

"I'm just excited going back to where I had my fairytale run last year. It was crazy.

"It's great to be the defending champion. I take it the right way. I won't put extra pressure on myself, regardless of who's going to play, or not play.

"For me it's just important to be in a good mindset, well prepared, and ready to go. And I feel like I am ready."

- Kyrgios in good Nick -


Nadal, who lost to Federer in five sets in a vintage Australian final last year, has opted to join Djokovic at the Kooyong Classic exhibition event for some match practice in the week before the Open.

The Spaniard, who hasn't played since the World Tour Finals in London, had a stellar 2017, winning his 10th French Open, a third crown and the year-ending world number one spot.

Six-time champion Djokovic pulled out of events in and with elbow soreness before heading to Melbourne, and hasn't hit a ball in anger since the problem forced him to quit in the quarter-finals in July.

Big-serving Canadian is another with a chequered preparation after last year, while American world number eight hurt his hip while playing in

is the second straight Grand Slam to be badly hit by issues.

The was missing Wawrinka, Djokovic, Nishikori, Raonic and Murray, and after the early eliminations of Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, it was one of the rare Grand Slams where big names didn't dominate the quarter-finals.

If there is to be a winner outside the top guns in Melbourne, those who look most likely are Bulgarian Dimitrov, third in the rankings behind Nadal and Federer, Germany's Zverev and tempestuous Australian

Dimitrov, once nicknamed 'Baby Fed' for his playing style, enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017, winning four titles, including his first Masters crown in

Zverev, 20, has been touted as the "next big thing" for some years and is coming off five titles last season, yet he has never made it past the fourth round of a Grand Slam.

Kyrgios will have his supporters, especially in Australia, after beating Dimitrov on the way to winning his fourth and first at home in the lead-up International.

"Right now it's all about recovering and feeling the ball for the Oz Open. Because obviously I'm playing well under pressure and in pressure situations," said Kyrgios, whose talent has often been undermined by petulant outbursts.

Other form players include France's Gael Monfils, who won the lead-up Open in a depleted field, and his countryman who rolled back the years to claim the ATP Maharashtra Open title.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, January 09 2018. 12:15 IST