Federer fit as fiddle

MELBOURNE - Roger Federer has given himself the all clear from a virus bug that had his rivals hoping for a change in the tennis order at the Australian Open starting here today.

MELBOURNE - Roger Federer has given himself the all clear from a virus bug that had his rivals hoping for a change in the tennis order at the Australian Open starting here today.

Federer is vying for his 13th Grand Slam crown, edging to within one of the record held by American Pete Sampras, but had to pull out of his customary leadup Kooyong Classic exhibition to get over his health scare.

Records continue to roll off the Federer racquet and the Swiss champion is bidding to become only the third player in history and the first since 1965 to win a hattrick of Australian Opens.

He will become just the fifth player in the long history of men's tennis to go away with four or more Australian titles and is chasing three successive Grand Slam titles for the third time.

Such is the 26-year-old's domination, that the question begs who can stop the Fed Express from claiming his ninth of the last 11 major tournaments, with world number two Rafael Nadal picking up the last two French Opens.

If his health is not an issue, then it will come down to who has the game over the next fortnight to stop who many regard as the greatest player of all time from adding the 2008 Australian title to his burgeoning trophy cabinet.

Federer has been unchallenged as world number one since February 2004 and has won three of last year's four Grand Slams for the third time in four years.

"There's always a lot of pressure, but somehow I always get through. You know, I've got the right approach and I'm confident."

Federer's main rivals appear to be the younger brigade, headed by second seed Nadal, third-ranked Serbian Novak Djokovic and British ninth seed Andy Murray.

Nadal had a setback in his Australian Open buildup when he suffered an embarrassing defeat to Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-0, 6-1 at the Chennai Open final.

"This is the first important tournament of the season. It's going to be interesting. I'm going to try my best. I think I am prepared," Nadal said ahead of his opener against Serbia's Viktor Troicki today. Djokovic, refreshed after late season burn-out last year, will be looking to mount a serious challenge to Federer here after having chances against the Swiss in last year's US Open final.

"As a 20-year-old, I reached the third place of the world, but I'm really not trying to rush anywhere."

"Roger and Rafael's rivalry is the biggest in men's tennis, but I've been making a lot of good results and people have started talking about there being three players." - Sapa-AFP

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