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Australian Open 2009

Nadal and Federer in Doha© Getty ImagesRoger Federer and Rafael Nadal mark the start of the 2009 ATP World Tour season by playing tennis aboard an Arabian Dhow.

THE PURSUIT OF ONE

One is the golden number for Roger Federer during this Australian Open fortnight.

After an early (by Federer standards) semi-final exit last year in Oz that ended his streak of 10 straight appearances in Grand Slam finals, the former ATP World Tour Champion is ready to redeem himself and rewrite history once again.

One more Grand Slam title will place the Swiss maestro alongside the legendary Pete Sampras as winners of a record 14 majors, a feat Federer would have achieved last season had it not been for an epic Wimbledon defeat at the hands of new No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

One more title in Melbourne will tie Federer with four-time Australian Open champion Andre Agassi as Open Era title leaders at the year’s first Grand Slam tournament.

And finishing the week as the one holding the trophy will effectively signal a message to his competitors that Federer is fit for the World No. 1 fight.

The Australian Open effectively launches into high gear the year-long battle to become ATP World Tour Champion, a position Nadal intends to maintain, Federer reclaim, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray assume.

“This has the makings of one of the most competitive years ever in men’s tennis,” says Patrick McEnroe. “Four guys have separated themselves at the top, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray joining the Big Two, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Maybe each of them will win one Slam this year.”

OFF THE STARTING BLOCKS

The opening week of the 2009 ATP World Tour tennis season provided an early taste of the exciting year ahead, kicking off in Doha where Nadal and Federer played aboard a traditional Arabian Dhow floating in the Persian Gulf to mark the race to crown the official 2009 ATP World Tour Champion.

But on the court, the six-pack-sporting Murray emerged as the player responsible for sending ripples through the tennis world. While World No. 1 Nadal succumbed to Frenchman Gael Monfils in the quarter-finals, the Scot showed his tenacity as he posted successive wins over Federer and Andy Roddick to defend his Doha title.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, defending Australian Open champion Djokovic suffered a surprising straight-sets exit to 20-year-old Latvian Ernests Gulbis at the newly relocated ATP World Tour 250 tennis tournament in Brisbane – though he would rebound by reaching the Sydney semi-finals the following week.

The first week of the 2009 season also showed that age nor relative lack of experience served as limitations to the wide range of tennis players on the ATP World Tour. Thirty-year-old Czech Radek Stepanek won his third singles title in Brisbane, and afterwards dropped to the Brisbane court to do his trademark ‘worm’ celebratory dance. In the Chennai final, Croat Marin Cilic – ten years Stepanek’s junior – halted the Cinderella run of Indian wild card Somdev Devvarman, who was making just his sixth main draw appearance at an ATP World Tour tennis tournament.

THE ROAD AHEAD

These storylines and more will continue to unravel over the next ten months as the best men’s tennis players travel the 63 ATP World Tour stops in 32 countries worldwide, culminating with the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at London’s O2 Arena.

Immediately following the Australian Open, an ATP World Tour tennis tournament returns to South Africa for the first time since 1995 when Johannesburg hosts the SA Tennis Open at the Montecasino. The month of February also features the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships, indoor tournaments in Europe and North America, and the four-week Golden Swing through Latin America – giving players their first chance to test their clay court feet.

The tennis elite will then gather in March at Indian Wells and Miami, with 1000 Rankings points up for grabs at the respective ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis tournaments, before focus shifts to European clay in the lead up to the year’s second Grand Slam tournament. Madrid, originally an indoor hard court event held in October, joins Monte Carlo and Rome as one of the elite three Masters 1000 clay events on the road to Roland Garros. Other highlights of the spring European season include the new Belgrade tournament, owned by the Djokovic family, and the ARAG ATP World Team Championship in Duesseldorf, featuring the eight top tennis nations in a week-long, winner-take-all format.

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