28th December, 2013
Six of the top 10 women’s players will compete in the Brisbane International beginning Sunday but arguably all eyes will be on the men’s draw as Swiss superstar Roger Federer makes his debut in the tournament.
Seventeen-time Grand Slam winner Federer could possibly be playing in Australia for the last time if he decides to call an end to his glittering career at the end of 2014.
The 32-year-old former world number one slipped to number six in the rankings at the end of 2013 following a mid-season back injury and a series of disappointing results, particularly in the Grand Slams.
After losing to Andy Murray in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, Federer was beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.
Federer then suffered a shock second round loss to world number 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon before bowing out in the fourth round of the US Open to Spaniard Tommy Robredo.
He won just one title in 2013, and failed to make a major final for the first time since 2002.
However, Federer warned against writing him off, saying the recent appointment of Stefan Edberg to his coaching staff was an indication he still had the desire to compete at the top level.
“Critics are part of the tennis game, and they will be the last ones to put me out of the game,” Federer said on his arrival in Brisbane on Saturday.
“I still have a lot to do. Considering everything, I finished the season sixth, which was unbelievable.
“I always had a good perspective for things and it’s why, as crazy as it sounds, I enjoyed the year considering the setbacks I had — I wanted to find a way out of it.”
Federer’s main challenges in Brisbane will come from Japanese star Kei Nishikori, the world number 17, and Frenchman Gilles Simon, ranked two places lower at 19.
The top three seeds, along with fourth ranked South African Kevin Anderson, all have a bye into the second round.
Brisbane fans will be hoping former world number one Lleyton Hewitt can draw upon his huge local support to force his way deep into the draw.
Hewitt plays a qualifier in the first round ahead of a probable second round meeting with sixth seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez.
Defending champion and world number one Serena Williams heads an incredibly strong women’s field, which also features world number two Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova (4), Jelena Jankovic (8), Angelique Kerber (9) and Caroline Wozniacki (10).
Williams has played Brisbane for the past two years and said it was ideal preparation for the Australian Open.
“I was focused on the final (last year) and felt like this was a good start for the Australian Open,” she said. “They have great courts that are identical to the surface played in Melbourne, plus I have a week off after the tournament, so it’s always a good preparation to play in Brisbane, and it’s always fun to go back and try and defend your title.”
Current Australian Open champion Azarenka won her first WTA title in Brisbane in 2009.
“Brisbane always has a strong field and it will provide me with tough matches against the world’s best,” she said.
Williams and Azarenka both have first round byes, while Sharapova plays Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia and fourth seeded Jankovic takes on Italian Francesca Schiavone.