INDIAN WELLS, March 10 – Roger Federer will shake off the rust following a six-week break from competition by playing in the ATP and WTA Indian Wells tournament which begins Wednesday.
The world number two’s last competition was the Australian Open final on February 1, which featured a teary trophy ceremony as the Swiss lost to Rafael Nadal.
Federer, who has 13 grand slam titles just one behind the all-time record of 14 held by Pete Sampras, is keen to kick start his spring season.
And he appears to be finally lining up another world-class coach in former Andre Agassi mentor Darren Cahill, who has been working with him over the last week in Dubai.
Federer has lifted three trophies on the trot in the Californian desert, the last in 2006, Since then, rivals Novak Djokovic and Nadal have taken the honours at the Tennis Garden.
The 27-year-old Swiss missed last weekend’s Davis Cup due to a sore back. Switzerland was beaten by the US 4-1.
But his physio Pierre Pagannini says Federer will be ready for a month-long run of US hardcourt play in California and Florida.
The Indian Wells women’s main draw begins Wednesday while the men start action on Thursday.
Top seed Nadal will defend his desert trophy after leading Spain into the Davis Cup quarter-finals over Djokovic’s Serbia.
The Spaniard joined Federer in missing Dubai last month, but showed devastating touch at the weekend. "My game felt much more secure," Nadal said. Third seed Djokovic comes to the Tennis Garden wondering what went wrong after losing both of his Davis matches.
He is adjusting to a new racket and yearning for the form which saw him win the Australian Open title at the start of 2008.
"I’m more comfortable with the racquet and comfortable on the court," said the 21-year-old. "I’m just trying to play the tennis that I played in the first part of the 2008. If I do so, I think I will be pretty successful."
British fourth seed Andy Murray is sure to play for the first time since withdrawing before a Dubai match with a mystery virus.
While missing the Davis Cup, the Scot did get the all-clear from doctors as he tries to close the gap on Djokovic.
On the women’s side, number one Serena Williams and fifth-ranked sister Venus will skip the event as they do every year in the wake of a perceived "racist" incident that ocurred at the start of the decade at the venue. Venus has already won in both Dubai and Acapulco this year.
If the WTA takes a firm stand against the boycott, the pair will be slapped with massive fines and possible sanctions under tough new rules which began in January.
In their absence, it will be a fight for superiority between Serbia’s pair of Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic as well as the squad of Russians: Dinara Safina, Olympic gold medal winner Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
After not playing since August due to shoulder surgery, former number one Maria Sharapova will make a partial return, playing doubles with Elena Vesnina.
The 21-year-old, who has dropped to world No. 23, has been bothered by the problem for two years.
Sharapova will play her first doubles event in four years. "The healing process takes time and requires things to move more slowly than I would like, but I am taking things one step at a time," Sharapova wrote on her website.
Sharapova won the event in 2006.