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Relaxed Federer accepts the end of his dominance

updated 12:03 PM EST, Sun January 13, 2013
World No. 2 Roger Federer arrived early in Melbourne for January's Australian Open after deciding not to play in any warm-up events. World No. 2 Roger Federer arrived early in Melbourne for January's Australian Open after deciding not to play in any warm-up events.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • World No. 2 Roger Federer seeking his fifth Australian Open title in Melbourne
  • Swiss star has taken a relaxed approach to his build-up to 2013's opening grand slam
  • He instead opted to play in exhibition tour of South America in December
  • Novak Djokovic seeking to become first to win three successive Australian Opens

(CNN) -- While much of the talk has been about Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray ahead of this week's Australian Open, Roger Federer has been happy to slide under the radar.

World No. 1 Djokovic won an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and reached the final of the Hopman Cup teams event in Perth despite a surprise defeat to young Australian Bernard Tomic, while third-ranked Murray impressively retained his Brisbane title.

By contrast, Federer, the most successful male player in tennis history, has been largely inactive. His last serious on-court action was an exhibition tour of South America in December.

"It's been very relaxing, the last one and a half months," the 17-time grand slam champion told reporters ahead of his bid for a fifth Melbourne crown.

Read: Sharapova takes on Australian boys

"I arrived really early -- two, three days earlier than in the past -- which has been quite nice.

Maria Sharapova hits a return during an exhibition match in the lead-up to the Australian Open. Last year's runnerup decided to play against junior boys after having to pull out of the Brisbane tournament earlier in January. Maria Sharapova hits a return during an exhibition match in the lead-up to the Australian Open. Last year's runnerup decided to play against junior boys after having to pull out of the Brisbane tournament earlier in January.
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Stars warm up for Australian Open Stars warm up for Australian Open
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have a growing rivalry at the top of men's tennis. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have a growing rivalry at the top of men's tennis.
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"I purposely didn't play a lead-up tournament so that I'd be fresh for the beginning, hopefully going deep into the tournament. That's the goal, obviously."

The 31-year-old last won the season's opening grand slam in 2010, and was beaten in the quarterfinals 12 months ago before going on to win Wimbledon for a record-equaling seventh time and surpassing Pete Sampras' milestone of total weeks at the top of the rankings.

"I'm ready to go and eager. That, to me, right now dominates," the Swiss star said. "I think as long as that's the case, that means I love it very much.

"Today I take much more pleasure out of doing the gym work than I ever have. Today things for me make sense. I know why I'm doing them. I know they're necessary."

Read: Will 'big four' become two?

Having surrendered the No. 1 ranking to Djokovic at the end of last season, Federer was revived by his trip to Brazil, Argentina and Colombia -- largely untapped markets for tennis.

"It was one of the most fascinating trips of my life," Federer said. "I was deeply impressed by the atmosphere, by the love for the game, for the appreciation they showed for me showing up."

He will start his 53rd grand slam tournament against 46th-ranked Frenchman Benoit Paire, and as second seed he cannot meet two-time defending champion Djokovic until the final.

"I know I won't win all the tournaments I enter," Federer said.

"But it's important that I enjoy it and I try as hard as I can and put myself deep in the tournaments like I did last year. I play to win every match right now."

Djokovic is one of nine players who have won successive Australian Open titles, and the Serbian is seeking to be the first to make it three in a row.

Read: Djokovic and Murray kept apart

"I like playing here because it's after probably five, six, seven weeks of break with no official tournament," he said at his pre-tournament conference.

Women's tennis top stars talk personal
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"So you get time to recover, regroup, recharge your batteries mentally, physically, try to get ready for the new season with four, five weeks of good practice. You come here fresh. You're motivated and inspired to play some good tennis."

The 25-year-old will also start against a Frenchman, playing Paul-Henri Mathieu on Monday, and his run to the final could see him face Federer's 15th-seeded compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka in round four, then Czech No. 5 Tomas Berdych and Spanish No. 4 David Ferrer.

Two-time finalist Murray, who beat Djokovic in the U.S. Open final to win his first grand slam, is in Federer's half of the draw while 2012 Melbourne runner-up Rafael Nadal is not yet ready to make his comeback.

"It is definitely a loss for the tournament, for tennis, for sport in general not to have Rafa playing still on the court. It's been, what, seven months since he's played his last official match," Djokovic said.

"I'm sure if he felt he was ready enough to play this tournament, best-of-five in the Australian summer that can be brutal and difficult to play, then he would come. He probably felt he needs more time to recover. I wish him a speedy recovery."

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