INDIAN WELLS, United States: Roger Federer will seek to back up his Dubai title win on Saturday with a record fifth Indian Wells crown starting this week which if successful would be his 79th career title.
Federer, though, will face a top class field with defending champion Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic as the top seeds.
The $12 million ATP and WTA hardcourt event begins on Wednesday for the women — where Maria Sharapova is the defending champion — and Thursday for the men.
Federer won titles at Indian Wells from 2004-2006 and again in 2012 and showed top form in reaching the Australian Open semi-finals and taking his sixth Dubai crown which included beating Djokovic in the semi-finals and coming from behind to beat Tomas Berdych in the final.
“I think this is how you win your first title again after a while, and then hopefully from here on it’s easier, especially closing out,” Federer said.
“There is a lot of pressure. Sometimes I have been disappointed with my play when it really mattered. I was able to deliver when I had to. I was able to come up with the goods. It was one of those tournaments I kind of need this way right now.”
The 32-year-old Swiss star will have Stefan Edberg with him as coach, one of four former Indian Wells winners on hand to guide others, with Michael Chang helping Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Boris Becker working with Djokovic and Ivan Ljubicic coaching Canada’s Milos Raonic.
“It has just been nice spending time with him,” Federer said. “It’s clearly inspiring at this point just hearing him speak about the game.”
Federer battled nagging injuries much of last year but sees himself in a strong position to go far in events and add to his record total of 17 men’s Grand Slam titles, the most recent of them in 2012 at Wimbledon.
And based upon hard work in the off-season, Federer says he has a new spark of confidence.
“I feel I am in good enough shape at least now and that’s very encouraging,” he said.
“I feel my best tennis is around the corner. I’ve said that quite a few times, but I feel like this time it’s really the case. I wake up with zero pain. I’m excited playing tournaments. It’s a good start to the season.”
Nadal, who has 13 career Grand Slam titles, will try to match Federer as a four-time Indian Wells champion, having won in 2007 and 2009 as well as last year.
Djokovic, the 2008 and 2011 Indian Wells winner, will also be a contender, as will Berdych, Britain’s Andy Murray and Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka, in his first event since capturing his first Grand Slam crown by beating Nadal in the Melbourne final.
Australian Lleyton Hewitt, 33, could become only the third active player to crack the 600 match win mark, joining Federer and Nadal.
On the women’s side, Sharapova will be tested by 2012 Indian Wells winner Victoria Azarenka, 2011 winner Caroline Wozniacki and Australian Open champion Li Na of China.
Li hopes to replace the absent Serena Williams at the top of the world rankings.
“I want to be number one in the world,” Li said. “It’s a goal, the dream for all athletes. I will try as hard as I can.”
Williams has boycotted Indian Wells since 2001, when fans booed her as she won in a walkover against sister Venus.