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Don't expect another Federer meltdown

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

With the 2010 Australian Open already rolling with qualifying matches, it's hard to believe it has been 50 weeks since a beaten and broken Roger Federer shed tears of frustration at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena.

Such was the extent of Federer's rebirth in the middle and latter parts of 2009 that it is easy to forget just how much doubt and dismay surrounded his career following last year's Australian Open.

Picked apart mentally and physically by the brutal ruthlessness of Rafael Nadal in the final, Federer could not contain his emotions as he received the runner-up trophy.

That moment, more than any other, appeared to signal the final act in the changing of the guard in men's tennis, with Nadal's convincing victory seemingly establishing the Spaniard as the new king.

Within a few short months, however, Federer had pieced his game and psyche back together. Helped by an injury to Nadal, Federer captured his first French Open title before sweeping past Pete Sampras' all-time career Grand Slam record at Wimbledon.

Despite his loss to Juan Martin del Potro in an epic U.S. Open final, Federer is the man to beat once more. He has recaptured his swagger so resoundingly that a similar meltdown this year seems impossible.

But challenges and threats to Federer abound, with Nadal back to full fitness and Del Potro, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all lurking hungrily.

Yet the key element this time in Melbourne is that Federer is full of motivation. Stung by the events of last year, he still feels he has one more box to tick before that painful memory can be erased.

"It was a difficult time for me," Federer said. "It was frustrating for me because I so desperately wanted to win the tournament – and when it mattered, I couldn't get my game how I wanted it.

"Of course, I am happy with how my game improved later in the year and it was satisfying to play to my ability once again."

The draw at the Australian Open threw some interesting possibilities Federer's way. First up is Igor Andreev, who pushed him to five sets in the fourth round of last year's U.S. Open. A quarterfinal with Nikolay Davydenko, who beat Federer in Qatar last week, also beckons.

But Federer avoided being in the same quarter as the fifth-seeded Murray, who is on course for a showdown with Nadal in the last eight.

"I can't wait for 2010," said Federer, a three-time winner of the Australian Open. "It is important for me to try to get the Australian Open title back."

Prediction

Semifinals: Federer beats Tsonga, Del Potro beats Nadal

Final: Federer beats Del Potro