Federer optimistic ahead of season-opener

Grand Slam record holder hoping to continue good form in Qatar but sets sights on regaining Australian Open title.

    Federer capped his 2011 season in style, becoming the first player to win the ATP World Tour Finals six times [GETTY]

    Roger Federer believes the momentum he achieved from his finest finish to a season can launch him to a successful defence of the Qatar Open title and a flying start to Olympic year.

    The Grand Slam record holder has gone 17 matches unbeaten and won three titles since the US Open in September, bringing hopes of five more wins and a fourth title in Doha to celebrate the arrival of 2012.

    "It was my strongest finish and I'm proud of it," Federer said.

    "I'm already looking forward to the new season."

    Aussie dreams

    During this winning sequence Federer was back to somewhere near his best, raising hopes of ending a two-year Grand Slam drought at the Australian Open in a fortnight's time.

    Federer has even allowed himself to talk about his chances of regaining the world number one spot, even though he is currently ranked behind both Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal.

    "All of a sudden you play well and you win 17 matches in a row and you're back where you feel if you win a Slam or something, you're right in the conversation again, so that's interesting and excites me," Federer told the New York Times recently.

    If his words sound rather optimistic, that is because Federer has a special incentive. Just one more week at the top would enable him to equal the record 286 weeks at number one achieved by Pete Sampras.

    However Federer's greatest remaining ambition is an Olympic singles gold medal in July, which may be why he has dropped next month's Dubai Open amidst an extra full and exhausting 2012 calendar.

    The other mushrooming Arabian Gulf city - Doha - remains very much in Federer's plans. Next week it should provide a launch-pad for his ambitions, with good warm-up opposition for the Australian Open.

    The top seed is Nadal, and the third seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who not only beat Federer at Wimbledon but gave him a good tussle for the title in the ATP World Tour finals in London four weeks ago.

    "I was more consistent in my head," Tsonga said of his encouraging 2011.

    By continuing this improvement he hopes to climb from his highest ever ranking of six into the top four in the coming year.

    Another Frenchman, Gael Monfils, the likely fourth seed, could also influence the Qatar outcome - and certainly if the impression he created in 2006 is anything to go by.

    That year he performed a noisily applauded limbo dance at the players' party the night before the final, in which he gave Federer a good contest.

    Mental focus

    Nadal blamed burnout and lack of intensity on his recent dip in form [GALLO/GETTY] 

    But it is the body and mind of Nadal which may attract most attention.

    The French Open champion claims that a weakening of his drive contributed his to lose the world number one ranking to Novak Djokovic last year.

    "Over the years you'll lose a little intensity," he told El Pais recently.

    "You burn with the (amount of) competition. For the past seven years I've been ranked in the top two.

    "The main thing is to play again with the passion and intensity needed," he says.

    Nadal also feels his game became too predictable, and that he needs to make a conscious effort to hit his ground strokes from inside the court more often.

    And he says he aims to make this a habit rather than wait till he faces top players before producing it.

    If Nadal tests that new year's resolution with some assertive performances over the next few days, he could put himself in the frame to win the Doha title for the first time. 



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