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Tennis: Nadal deflects 'Rafa Slam' talk

Rafael Nadal yesterday attempted to diffuse all speculation about a 'Rafa Slam' by insisting that his great rival Roger Federer is the favourite to land the Australian Open crown.

Nadal lost to Andy Murray in the quarter-finals in Melbourne last year but then stormed to victory at the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open and stands on the cusp of becoming the first man to hold all four major titles since Rod Laver in 1969.

But despite his momentous 2010, the modest Spaniard believes that Swiss great Federer remains the man to beat.

He said: "Every tournament is completely different. I will try my best to play well and then we will see what happens.

"I certainly feel less of a favourite than him (Federer) and not more of a favourite than (Novak) Djokovic, Murray, (Robin) Soderling, these kind of players."

Nadal's caution may be related to the illness he contracted in Doha last week and he admitted to not knowing how he will front up physically when the season's first Major gets under way.

"I am feeling better but I am not perfect yet," he said. "When I was in Doha, I was a bit more tired than usual and sweating more than ever in practice.

"The truth is I am better than I was a few days ago so that's very positive. I hope it's not going to be a problem on Monday or Tuesday but I don't know yet."

Nadal reiterated his stance that winning the Australian Open was more important to him in itself than becoming just the third man in history able to display the game's four biggest trophies in his cabinet at one time.

"If it does happen for sure I am going to be more happy to win in Australia than getting the four in a row, that's 100pc true," he insisted.

"It's true that maybe this will be the only time in my career that I will have this opportunity but that is not the reason I will be under pressure. The pressure is like every Grand Slam, you want to play well in the important tournaments. And for me having the four or not is not something that is in my mind."

Defending champion Federer, unsurprisingly, believes that Nadal is the favourite as he attempts to fly under the radar.

He said: "I don't read much press, so I don't know where the attention's at. I hope it's on him, he deserves it. He's world No 1, he's going for four in a row.

"I think it's unbelievable what Rafa's been able to do. He should be the favourite. He's holding the three slams. I hold this one still."

If the world No 2 fails to take the title in Melbourne, he will not hold a Major crown for the first time since he made his Grand Slam breakthrough at Wimbledon in 2003.

Even though it will give added ammunition to those who claim the 29-year-old is on the wane, Federer is not too concerned. "It is what it is. It's not easy to win slams," he said.

"That means I've done something quite extraordinary for many seasons. The season's not over after Australia. Maybe you're not holding a slam, but you still have three more chances to win a Grand Slam.

"It's not only about Grand Slams, like what people make out. We all know that these tournaments are massive and this is where normally the top guys are being measured.

"(But) The World Tour Finals is equally important. Other tournaments are very important. I don't just purely gear up for the slams, you know. It's not how I work; otherwise I wouldn't play Qatar, Stockholm, Basle, Halle, you name it; I would be saving myself all over the place, but I'm not.


"We'll see how it goes. I'd love to win. If I don't win, look, someone else was better, and that's okay."

The big two of Nadal and Federer are again likely to dominate, with Djokovic, Soderling and Murray hoping to pounce on any slip-up.

And third seed Djokovic acknowledges that the chasing pack still have plenty of ground to make up.

He said: "They are the two best players in the world deservedly. They are the two biggest favourites in any tournament they play and I guess I am in this small group of players behind them that is trying to challenge them in each event.

"How far back (we are) I can't say but results suggest they are probably two of the best five players to have ever played the game."

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Irish Independent