Federer primed to repel raiders in Shanghai

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SHANGHAI, Nov 8 (Reuters) Already immortalised as a terracotta warrior, Roger Federer will be confident he can repel raiders plotting his downfall at the Tennis Masters Cup.

Few among the eight players involved in the prestigious season-ending event, which begins in Shanghai on Sunday, possess the weapons to pierce Federer's armour on a consistent basis.

The world number one's hopes of a fourth Masters Cup title in the last five years were boosted further when he was handed a seemingly uncomplicated draw.

Life-size terracotta statues of the players have been sculpted to mark the commencement of hostilities, the chiseled features of Federer the fiercest-looking of the eight.

But the Swiss should be able to keep his best for the knockout stages after being drawn with Andy Roddick, Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez in the Red Group.

World number two Rafael Nadal will face Serbian Novak Djokovic, Frenchman Richard Gasquet and fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the Gold Group.

Federer is, on paper at least, unlikely to face too much resistance in the round-robin stages, having compiled a combined win-loss record of 34-1 against his three rivals.

Russian Davydenko, last month fined for not trying hard enough in a match in St Petersburg, has lost all his 10 previous meetings with Federer -- as has Chilean Gonzalez.

Roddick, troubled by knee and foot problems, has beaten Federer just once in 15 matches, the American three times losing to the world number one in grand slam finals.

Federer is likely to be tested more seriously from the semi-finals, the top two players from each group advancing from their groups in Shanghai.

He has struggled mightily against Nadal in the past, his Spanish nemesis leading 8-5 in their head-to-head record.

The Swiss has beaten Ferrer in all seven of their previous matches but has lost to Djokovic and Gasquet, the Frenchman in particular a player Federer took time to work out.

But few would bet against the Federer closing in on the record of five titles at the season-ending tournament shared by Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl.

REUTERS AB BD1405

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