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Federer says he is no rush to beat Sampras' record

ROGER Federer doesn't think he needs to be in any hurry to break Pete Sampras' grand slam record.

Zheng Jie, seeded 22, Peng Shuai and Yuan Meng will carry China's hopes in the women singles. Yuan will face Serena Williams of the United States in the first round. Yan Zi and Zheng will also team up in the women's doubles with compatriots Sun Tiantian and Chuang Jia-rong of Chinese Taipei.

Federer is bidding to equal the 14 major titles won by the retired American star by capturing the Australian Open.

The growing perception is that the 27-year-old Swiss will find it harder than any time in recent years to win a major, with Andy Murray joining Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - all 22 or under _ among the leading contenders to beat him.

"I want to do well, not only this year but many more years," Federer said yesterday, a day ahead of his first-round match with Italian Andreas Seppi. "I don't feel like this is my last chance to either win... or pick up a few slams more easily.

"They never come around easily. Let's not forget who I had to beat on the way."

Nadal is 22 and already has five majors - four straight at Roland Garros and the last at Wimbledon. He also snapped Federer's record 237-week reign atop the rankings last season.

No. 3 Djokovic and No. 4 Murray will both be 22 in May. Federer was closing in on his 22nd birthday when he won Wimbledon in 2003, the first of his 13 major titles.


Federer doesn't think age will start counting against him. He won three of the four majors in three of the last five seasons, twice finishing one match short of a season grand slam by losing the French Open final to Nadal. But he had to wait until the US Open to secure his first major of the last season. He's feeling more confident this year.

"They will be tough to win," he said. "But I know I got the game to do it."

A bout of mononucleosis hampered his preparations for the last Australian Open and he lost in the semifinals to Djokovic. Federer lost momentum, and lost the French Open and Wimbledon finals to Nadal, who also won the Olympic singles gold medal.

Under pressure in the last grand slam event of the year, Federer beat Murray in straight sets in the final to win his fifth straight US Open.

He then struggled at the season-ending Masters Cup and Djokovic took that title - the only one of the last 15 majors not won by either Federer or Nadal.

"I know a lot of people are saying this seems like a tough generation right now with Murray, Djokovic, Rafa and everything," Federer said. "I don't think it's that much stronger than when I came about."

Before Federer's domination, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Marat Safin and Juan Carlos Ferrero were all winning grand slams.

"It just always seems like two years on and nobody talks about what happened two years ago," Federer said. "It's not just now that we have really four great players again. I think they were there before, but there were just different names."

Like Federer, Djokovic has a Monday start. He'll be third match on Rod Laver Arena against Italian Andrea Stoppini today.

Djokovic's fellow Serbs Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic will highlight the women's action on Monday.

Top-ranked Jankovic starts against Yvonne Meusburger, determined to overcome a virus that prevented her from playing in Hong Kong last week and to silence the doubters who think she doesn't deserve the top ranking because she's never won a major.

Ivanovic lost the final here last year to Maria Sharapova and then went on to win the French Open, her first grand slam title. But her form at the majors has been on the wane since, with a third-round exit at Wimbledon followed by a second-round defeat at the US Open. The 21-year-old Ivanovic, who is working without a coach, starts against Julia Goerges of Germany in the opening match on the second covered stadium.

Seventh-seeded Andy Roddick will open the tournament, playing Bjorn Rehnquist of Sweden. The 2003 US Open champion has been a semifinalist here three times and would have to beat Djokovic in the quarterfinals this time to make it that far.


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