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Roger Federer is looking to reprise his run to the 2017 title Roger Federer is looking to reprise his run to the 2017 title

Federer’s familiar territory

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Camera shutters whir into overdrive regardless of Roger Federer’s impending chances of landing the silverware, such is his position in the game.

Standing-room-only pre-tournament press conferences are not a novelty anywhere the 19-time Grand Slam champion is competing.

While that hype has never subsided since a then pony-tailed Swiss in his baggy Nike shirt claimed his first major back in 2003, the rare “let’s see what happens” approach Federer had the luxury of discussing in his pre-tournament interviews at Melbourne Park 12 months ago has quickly dissipated.

Barring a handful of warm-up matches in Perth leading into last season, the Australian Open was his first tour-level tournament since calling time early on 2016 to heal a weary body.

He arrived as the No.17 seed, and two weeks later had pulled off arguably the most improbable of all his Grand Slam title runs with a come-from-behind five-set victory over Rafael Nadal in the decider.

“This year I hope to win the first few rounds and get rolling, hopefully, whereas last year I was just hoping to win,” Federer said. “It was more of a 'let's see what happens' kind of tournament, maybe similar to what Novak (Djokovic) or Stan (Wawrinka) or others are going through this year.

“It was the tournament of the year for me, no doubt about it. All the five-setters, as well.

“Having no expectations was so nice after all these years always having expectations, like now this year again.”

This year it becomes more a matter of how a 36-year-old father of four has come to be the pundits’ clear favourite for the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup. A successful title defence would draw him level with Djokovic’s record six-title haul at Melbourne Park.

“With age, I feel like I play down my chances just because I don't think a 36-year-old should be a favourite of a tournament, it should not be the case,” he said. “That's why I see things more relaxed, you know, at a later stage of my career.”

Last year I was just hoping to win … it was more of a 'let's see what happens' kind of tournament.
Roger Federer

It’s a run made more even extraordinary, given just how little time such a prolific match-winner has spent on the sidelines.

Federer’s stretch of 65 straight Grand Slam appearances only came to an end at Roland Garros 2016 due to a back injury. The subsequent five months out of the game due to knee surgery post-Wimbledon that year was Federer’s longest stint out of the game in his career.

For all the discussion of top players succumbing to injury in 2017, the Swiss felt much of it boiled down to a common, unavoidable denominator – age.

“I always said it like the moment I guess you reach 30, it's normal to maybe have some signs of usage of the body,” he said.

“But the players and their trainers and the tour and everybody should try their very best to try to make sure they can avoid injuries. Is that by playing less? Is that by training different? Is that by playing a different schedule?

“Whose responsibility is it at the end of the day? I think it's the player’s.” 

Winning came easier to Federer in 2017 than it had done for many years. That “let’s see what happens” approach lifted him back to No.2 in the world with seven titles, including a second major for the year at Wimbledon.

Yet even in those lowest points of 2016, at the tail end of a slamless four-and-a-half-year streak, the Swiss could see the bright side.

“It just seems that it's nice that it's never actually gone away, the fun aspect of actually enjoying the travel, coming back to Australia,” he said.

“It's great times in my life and in my career that we can make it all work, that I can still play tennis. My wife is incredibly supportive. It's definitely great times. Is it the best ever? I'm not sure. It's definitely a lot of fun right now.”