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10 Nov 2007 09:36
World number one Roger Federer will aim to put an unusually patchy tennis season behind him with victory number four at the elite Masters Cup starting on Sunday.
The defending champion, smarting from two rare defeats in the past month, signalled his determination by arriving nearly a week early for the year-ending showpiece.
“I’d like to get there early and get over the jet lag and get used to the surface over there and hopefully finish well over there,” he said after slumping out of the Paris Masters.
Twin losses to Argentina’s David Nalbandian have highlighted a rare blip by the metronomic Swiss, who has scarcely missed a beat in nearly four years on top of the rankings.
Three more grand slams notwithstanding, Federer has been found wanting on several occasions, including early-round shocks against Guillermo Canas (twice) and the unheralded Filippo Volandri.
His season record of eight losses against 64 wins is a shadow of last year’s 92-5 and his 81-4 of 2005.
However, with just two defeats in five appearances, Federer has made the Masters Cup his own and remains the man to beat at the futuristic Qi Zhong Stadium.
He has been boosted by a favourable draw against Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez, neither of whom have beaten the Swiss, and Andy Roddick, whose last success against Federer was in 2003.
Federer will also be relieved that the in-form Nalbandian, his conqueror in Paris and Madrid and in the 2005 Masters final, has not qualified for the eight-man event despite a late charge up the rankings.
Clay wizard Rafael Nadal heads the second group of four where all eyes will be on dashing Serb Novak Djokovic, the revelation of the season now ranked third in the world. The 20-year-old has mastered both Federer and Nadal this year and looks the favourite to seal one of the two semifinal spots ahead of fellow debutants David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet.
Spain’s Nadal dominated the early part of the season, reaching an Open-era record of 81 consecutive wins on clay, but was demolished by Nalbandian in the Paris final.
Meanwhile, organisers will be hoping for a smooth tournament after a scandal-hit season rocked by allegations of match-fixing, poisoning and Martina Hingis’s positive test for cocaine.
Russia’s Davydenko is at the centre of the match-fixing furore after unusual betting patterns relating to his first-round loss in Poland in August, prompting suggestions from some players that bribery approaches were common.
Davydenko has since been fined for not trying against Marin Cilic in St Petersburg and warned to up his game during a spectacular service meltdown against Marcos Baghdatis in Paris.
Former great Hingis retired under a cloud after revealing she failed a drugs test at Wimbledon, and this week Tommy Haas claimed he was poisoned during Germany’s Davis Cup loss to Russia last year.
Shanghai had its own share of controversy when Nadal and Andre Agassi pulled out within minutes of each other in 2005, angering Chinese officials.
China’s economic capital is hosting its penultimate Masters Cup but will join the global Masters Series in 2009.—Sapa-AFP
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