MELBOURNE, January 13 – Four-time champion Roger Federer will defend the only Grand Slam title he still owns at next week's Australian Open as he sets out to wrestle back the number one ranking from Rafael Nadal.Federer, 29, launched his 2011 season with victory at the Qatar Open en route to Australia, and takes to the court in Melbourne trailing his great Spanish rival by a whopping 3,145 ranking points.
The pendulum swung decisively to Nadal last year as he returned to number one and reeled off the French, Wimbledon and US Open crowns, but Federer, the all-time major leader with 16, is not prepared to stay at number two this year.
A successful title defence in Melbourne, where he has never been worse than a semi-finalist in the past seven years, will give Federer the springboard for a rousing return to world number one.
Nadal has seven titles to defend this year, including his three Grand Slams, to preserve his rankings lead and will be under pressure if Federer can regain his spark.
"Rafa has a lot of points to defend but at the same time he’s very confident," Federer said.
"It’s going to be really difficult, but if I keep playing at the level I did in Qatar, and playing only finals as I have lately, I feel like I have a chance. But I have to keep it up.
"You have to have something special to become world number one. But I’m prepared for that."
Federer has proved hard to overcome in Melbourne, while Nadal has a chequered history with his 2009 win his only final appearance in six visits.
Last year Federer mastered Andy Murray in straight sets in the Australian final, clinching victory in a gripping 24-point tie-breaker when Murray frittered away five set points.
"I played some of the best tennis in my life again over the last two weeks," Federer, a father of twin girls, said at the time. "It’s very special to win my first Grand Slam as a father."
Federer, who cried when his idol Rod Laver presented him with the trophy in 2006, relishes the challenges of the first Grand Slam of the season in Australia.
"I like the pressure of being defending champion. The memories for me back in Australia are very emotional, very nice. I love playing here," he said.
Federer has a fantastic 54-7 match record in Melbourne and has reached the final in 22 of his past 30 Grand Slam tournaments, a remarkable level of consistency.
"I won five titles, won a Slam, last year. That obviously makes me be very positive for this year. I believe I can have another great season in 2011," he said.
"I think the men’s game is at an absolute high, and having had me and Rafa (Nadal) both making career Grand Slams already at a young age I think is great for the game."
Federer will be lining up for his 47th career Grand Slam in Melbourne, the past 45 in a row.
Federer’s longevity in the sport has been one of his strengths and he puts it down to his smooth court coverage, which is less destructive to the body than some of his rivals’ styles.
"It’s just important to listen to your signals. I think that is also one thing I did really well when I became number one in the world," he said.
"I had all the things going for me and huge opportunities, to go and chase money or tournaments around the world, and I said ‘I’m not going to do it’.
"I said I am going to look at the big picture, and it’s been paying off. So I’m very happy with my decisions over the years."