Tennis: Australian Open highlights

Federer picks young guns

Australian Open champion Roger Federer has tipped a host of young guns led by Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic to break through this year.

"I was a bit sceptical of them, you know, like a year ago still because they had very bad grand slam results. They didn't really get that far like everybody was talking about.

"I think this year will be better for them. I definitely see that coming."

British teenager Murray, 19, has climbed to his highest career ranking of 15 on the back of his Qatar Open final loss to the seasoned Ivan Ljubicic this month.

He was one of only two players (Rafael Nadal was the other) to vanquish Federer last year, while Djokovic of Serbia, also 19, is 14th in the world after capturing two ATP titles last year. New rankings are issued today.

Baghdatis fired up

Last year's runner-up Marcos Baghdatis has declared himself tougher and stronger than in 2006 when he arrived at the Australian Open a relative unknown and electrified the tournament with a giant-killing run to the final.

Seeded 11th this year, the Cypriot said he was fired up for the season-opening grand slam in Melbourne, where he retains a huge following, particularly among the city's large and vocal Greek community.

Baghdatis took the tennis world by storm last year when he overcame Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian and Ivan Ljubicic on the way to the final, then led Roger Federer in the decider before succumbing to big-match nerves.

"I've improved myself a lot physically," he said. "I feel tougher, more experienced now. I'm playing good. I'm ready. Guess I'll just go on the court, fight for every match."

And he believes he can beat Federer this year.

Fashion game

The Australian Open. There's all the really important stuff like pre-tournament form to consider, the draw, the heat in Melbourne, Roger Federer's tilt for 10 grand slams ... and what Maria Sharapova's going to wear.

The 19-year-old world No 2 has promised to reveal a new outfit for her match against Camille Pin of France.

Asked what she had planned, she said: "It's a pretty classy dress. It's like a lemon chiffon colour.

"Bottom of the dress, it's like a little high waisted. I tend to pay a lot of attention to detail. There's a little corset detail in the back, there's a bow. My warm-up [outfit] is also really cute. You got to see it."

Buoyed by critics

China's leading light Li Nahas been called temperamental and has even been accused of having a weak mentality by her own tennis federation.

The 24-year-old from Wuhan has been put through the grinder, but it has paid dividends as she has raced up the rankings from 277 in 2002 to sit at a career high of 16.

A solid performance in Melbourne will lift her even higher, and the signs bode well after taking world No 5 Kim Clijsters to three sets before being defeated in the semifinals of the Sydney International.

The former badminton player leads China's charge to rival what Russia has achieved (five women players in the top 10) in the coming few years.

But Li's progress has not been rapid enough for China's tennis chief Sun Jinfang: "For sure, Li is one of the most talented players in China, but her weak mentality hampers her improvement," he said this month.

Give us a break

Roger Federer is renewing his calls for a longer off-season to help cut down on injuries, and yesterday won support from Marat Safin.

Federer stepped up pressure on the ATP by again calling for the Australian Open to be moved to March.

"The off-season is maybe a little short. The only way to really get that longer is to move the Australian Open," Federer said.

Tennis Australia has always rejected calls to shift the tournament as it falls in the school holidays, which helps to boost crowds.

Safin backed his calls for a longer break to recharge the batteries.

"Well, there a lot of things that could be changed. I don't know exactly what is going to happen," he said.

"The way I finished last year, which was the first week of December, then started again on January 15, it's a short time to rest and get ready for the new season."

- AFP

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