Melbourne: Roger, Rafa, the rest.Roger Federer is on the cusp of a record for most consecutive weeks atop the men's tennis rankings, regardless of what he does at the Australian Open.Rafael Nadal owns the record for most weeks at No 2.With seven of the last eight Grand Slam titles between them, it's hardly surprising they're heavily favored to meet in the Australian Open final on January 28."If I didn't play so well, he would have been No. 1 a long time ago," Federer said in a small tribute to Nadal on the eve of the year's first Grand Slam. "He's my No. 1 competitor. The numbers don't lie."Nadal missed the last Australian Open because of injuries and had a scare last week in Sydney, withdrawing from a tuneup tournament with a groin strain.Retiring in Sydney was just a precaution, he said."I feel 100 percent now - that's the most important thing."Even though he has a winning record against Federer, beating him in four finals last year, Nadal shares one thing in common with the chasing pack: he's almost out of words trying to describe Federer's success."Yes, he's an amazing guy. For me he's one of the best in history, for sure," he said.Federer made the final at all four majors last season, winning three of them. Nadal's title defence at the French Open broke Federer's bid for a season Grand Slam, something no player has achieved since Rod Laver in 1969.World recordWith 12 titles and a 92-5 season - Federer is so far ahead in the rankings that he is guaranteed of breaking Jimmy Connors' world record of 160 weeks at No. 1 by the end of next month.He's held the top ranking since February 4, 2004, the week after winning the Australian Open, the second of his nine major titles.So where does that leave Nadal? He has occupied the No. 2 position for 78 weeks since July 25, 2005, a record for second spot according to the ATP, which runs the men's tour.At the moment, he's focussed more on reaching his peak than his next showdown with Federer. He has worked on his forehand and tweaked his serve after taking just four days off between seasons."For play Federer, always the same: I need be in the final," he said. "To win the final, I need to play very, very, very good tennis before. I just think about the first round right now. If I win the first, we will see the second."No presumptions Nadal is not taking anything for granted in his opening match.He faces American Robert Kendrick, who took the first two sets off him at Wimbledon last year.Nadal could run into Scotland's Andy Murray - the only other player to beat Federer last year - in the fourth round. Number 5 James Blake and two-time major winner Lleyton Hewitt also are in the bottom quarter of the draw.Blake has a tough opener against former No 1 Carlos Moya, two days after beating the veteran Spaniard in the final at the Sydney International.Andy Roddick, on the bottom half of Federer's draw, summed up the Roger vs The Rest scenario best after beating the 25-year-old Swiss star in an exhibition warmup tournament at Kooyong on Saturday."It doesn't matter how many people can beat him, it only takes one," Roddick said.Sixth-seeded Roddick, who lost the US Open final to Federer last September, will open against French wildcard entry Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Roddick also has Marat Safin, the 2005 Australian Open champion, in his quarter of the draw.Women's defending champion Amelie Mauresmo will play American Shenay Perry in Monday's opening match on Rod Laver Arena.Her win here last year was a personal breakthrough after 11 seasons playing at the majors. She also added a title at Wimbledon and spent most of the season at No. 1."I think once you've tasted what it is to win the big ones, you really want to feel that again and you really want more," she said.Mauresmo was seeded No 2, with Maria Sharapova moving up to No 1 after top-ranked Justin Henin-Hardenne withdrew for undisclosed family reasons.SharapovaaÂÂs day offSharapova, the US Open champion, gets Monday off before playing Camille Pin in her first-round match.Serena Williams is the first night match on center court on Monday against Mara Santangelo.Williams, who won the last of her seven majors here in 2005, will be competing at Melbourne without her sister, Venus, who pulled out this week with a wrist problem.Federer changed his preparation schedule this year, taking a couple of weeks off for a beach vacation instead of playing at the Qatar Open, says he is well rested and refreshed, coming off three matches at the Kooyong exhibition tournament.He faces Bjorn Phau, who along with Nadal is the only player in the draw with a winning record against Federer, in the first round.Phau won their only encounter 6-2, 6-3 at Washington in 1999, the year after Federer turned pro."It was so hot, I remember. Back then I wasn't too fit. I was young," Federer said. "I was done after five games, it was too hot. I'm looking forward to playing him again, so I can prove I've improved over the time."In the meantime, their careers went in different directions. Federer has won more than US$28.5 million in prize money since then and dominated the game. Phau is ranked 83rd and has won US$936,126.Federer has potential third- and fourth-round matches against U.S. Open semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny and former No. 1-ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero, with last year's losing finalist Marcos Baghdatis looming in the quarterfinals.
Topics : Tennis