Undercooked Federer hopes for a quick start in Melbourne Park

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<pre><pre>Undercooked Federer hopes for a quick start in Melbourne Park

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Roger Federer is competing for a third title in four years at Melbourne Park and a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam Cup. Since he hasn't played competitive tennis since November, the Swiss keeps his expectations in check.

Swiss Roger Federer takes part in a press conference. REUTERS / Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

Unlike his main rivals, Federer, who won his last Grand Slam at Melbourne Park in 2018, left the first ATP Cup to spend more time with his family before starting his 22nd season on tour.

The third press conference before the tournament on Saturday was dominated by questions about the ongoing bushfires in Australia and the role of the best men in air quality during the tournament.

"And by the way, I play Steve Johnson for those who are interested," said a smiling Federer to reporters. "I don't know, I thought I was in Australia for that, but that's okay."

His opponent in the opening round – American number 81 Johnson – won a Challenger tournament in nearby Bendigo on Monday and reached the quarterfinals in the Canberra Challenger last week.

When finally asked about his opening game, Federer said with a smile: "I'm not in the mood now.

"Look, it is exactly the difficult situation to play someone who has played a lot this week. He is ready to go. He is ready to play and I am not."

Federer's last game was a loss in November's ATP final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who defeated him in round four last year at Melbourne Park.

"I really have to make sure I get out of the gates quickly," said Federer. “The training went well. I had a lot of time to go up and down and do all the things I had to do to get ready. I hope it is enough.

"I know it's a super long way to win, so I have to do it one game at a time. My expectations are pretty low."

Canadian world number 103, Brayden Schnur, described Federer and Rafa Nadal as "selfish" because they had not voted for the lesser-known players who had been struggling this week due to the bushfire. [ID: nL8N29K035]

"I don't think I can do more than I can," said Federer. "I'm on the council. I've been on the tour for so long. I got through the lower rows, the juniors.

“Ultimately, we all take care of each other. We cross paths in the changing room. I always understand a little frustration because this tour, this calendar, this schedule, however, is never perfect.

"Some people will always complain. But at the end of the day, that's also something new with the smoke. Everyone has to find out. "

Edited by Peter Rutherford