Melbourne, Jan 12 (AFP) A resurgent Roger Federer standsbetween Rafael Nadal and the "Rafa Slam" at the AustralianOpen, where the Spaniard can become the first man in 42 yearsto hold all four Grand Slam titles at once.
Defending champion Federer, now 29, has struck an ominousvein of form, downing Nadal for the ATP World Tour Finalscrown in November and winning this month''s Qatar Open to go 10matches unbeaten.
Nadal, the world number one, is battling back from adebilitating fever which saw him slump out in the Qatar semisand delay his arrival in Melbourne.The timing is brutal for Nadal, 24, who knows he may haveonly one shot at uniting all four majors -- albeit not in thesame year -- for the first time since Australian great RodLaver completed his second Grand Slam in 1969.
"It''s going to be the one chance I have in my life," headmitted.
Nadal was reigning Australian Open champion when heretired hurt from last year''s quarter-finals, but he bouncedback to win Roland Garros, Wimbledon and his first US Open,moving to nine Slam titles and closing on Federer''s recordhaul.
Federer thrived in Nadal''s absence to stretch his GrandSlam tally to 16 at Melbourne Park, and has found a new leaseof life under Paul Annacone, the coach who guided Pete Samprasand Tim Henman.
The Swiss, left in floods of tears after losing the 2009final to Nadal, lit the fuse for more fireworks in theirfamous rivalry by targeting a return to the number one spot.
"You have to have something special to become worldnumber one. But I''m prepared for that," Federer said.
However, the enduring dominance of the top two, jointfavourites here, only spells more problems for the chasingpack led by Serbia''s Novak Djokovic -- the 2008 winner -- andAndy Murray, heavily beaten by Federer in last year''s final.
"It''s incredible," said Murray, the world number five,marvelling at Nadal''s tilt at the "Rafa Slam".
"A lot of people are saying, ''Well, it''s not all in theone calendar year.'' But I don''t really think that makes anydifference. If you hold all four Slams at one time, it''s anincredible achievement. Even three in a row is amazing. (MORE)AFP SNK