(L/R) Switzerland’s Roger Federer, Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic, Belarus’s Victoria Azarenka, Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios and Australia’s Thanasi Kokkinakis pose during a “Kids Exhibition Match” promotional event in Melbourne yesterday.



With a New Year’s ATP title already in hand and his game firing well, second seed Roger Federer could not be more content heading into the Australian Open.
The Swiss with 17 grand slam titles including four in Melbourne, will open his campaign tomorrow against Lu Yen-Hsun of Taiwan.
So far, it’s all good for Federer, who won the Brisbane title less than a week ago over Milos Raonic.
“Clearly things are more calm this year coming in,” Federer said yesterday. “Last year having the new racquet, having gotten through the back issues, having gone through the off-season, feeling good but still not quite sure because I needed matches to see how it was going to cope.
“There were many changes that took place in the six months leading into the (2014) Australian Open, whereas this time around I’ve played so well. I was able to win Brisbane and that makes me feel more secure coming in.”
Having recovered his game in 2014 with five titles including back-to-back Masters 1000s in Cincinnati and Shanghai, the 33-year-old is happy with his state of play.
“I’m serving more consistent and stronger than I ever have. That’s my opinion. I definitely think the racquet has helped me with that as well. My concentration I do believe is there, better than it’s ever been - at least I hope it is.
“My backhand is working better than it has in the past as well. The question is confidence, forehand, movement. But clearly when I was winning almost everything, everything was so good that nobody was even questioning anything.
“I feel I’m playing very well. If it’s the best ever, I’m not quite sure. But I’m definitely very pleased how things have gone now the last six months.”
While Federer exuded serenity, there is some tension in the air in the Rafael Nadal camp as the Spanish third seed prepares for a first-round test with tough Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny,
Nadal owns an 11-4 record in the series and has won their last five matches, but the Spaniard has been dealing with recovery from his own back and knee problems as well as having his appendix removed last November.
His time on court in the closing days of last season was sparse and he had to miss the year-end finals after his surgery.
“Every time you come back, you have the doubts, you have the feeling that you are far away from your best,” Nadal said. “But the only thing you can do is play with the right attitude and try to have the right schedule to play matches, to play weeks in a row.
“It’s the only way to find the positive feelings and the confidence back. When you have put all the things together, it make your game better again.
“That’s what I am doing. I am trying to do the calendar that will be better for me. Playing here, then playing on clay, that helps me physically, in terms of tennis, too. The only thing I can say is I need to play better, yes. But the only way to play better is to win matches.”
Women’s second seed Maria Sharapova brings a Brisbane women’s title to the Open as the world number two works to overtake slumping number one Serena Williams, possibly by the end of the fortnight.
“I’m sure I’m one of the players to beat,” said the five-time grand slam winner. “I’m number two in the world, I had a great season last year, winning a Grand Slam (French Open).
“There are a lot of players that have an opportunity to win this tournament, and I’m certainly one of them.”
But Sharapova is less forthcoming on her possible number one ranking return.
“It’s a ranking that every single player wants to grab and works so hard for. There’s a lot of players that have an opportunity to get there, and I’m one of them.
“I am, of course, determined to do that. But by doing that you need to win more matches than the person that’s in the first place. So that’s the goal.”