Roger Federer wary of Murray challenge

DEFENDING champion Roger Federer believes Andy Murray's grand slam pedigree will ensure he is a major challenger for the Wimbledon title despite a poor run of form.

The world No 4 has failed to get past the quarter-finals in any tournament since losing to Federer in his second major final at the Australian Open in January.

The Swiss star and world No 3 Novak Djokovic find themselves in a similar boat, and Federer feels the British fans have plenty of cause for optimism. "Regardless of what happened between here and the Australian Open, Andy is one of the big favourites for this tournament," he said.

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"It's been for me, for Djokovic and for Murray to some degree a bit of a disappointing last few months. But I think Murray also played incredible tennis at the Australian Open.

"So here we are again at grand slam play. You have to maybe ignore a little bit what happened in between and remember the last time you played a best-of-five-sets match. This is when he was very tough. I think that's why maybe it favours the big guys. Andy's obviously one of them."

Federer was at his imperious best in Melbourne but, hampered by illness immediately after the Australian Open, his form also dropped off and he has failed to win a title since.

His incredible run of consecutive grand slam semi-finals ended at 23 with defeat by Robin Soderling at the French Open, but final appearances in Madrid and Halle have hinted at a return to something like his best.

The 28-year-old admitted his slump came as something of a surprise, saying: "The year started great with playing so well in Australia. I really played some of the best tennis of my life. I've been disappointed I wasn't able to carry on.

"I know my game, my body and everything so well that I really expected to take off and just go on a tear after that. Maybe the lung infection did throw me back a bit, not having played so much through March and April. It hurt. It was disappointing. But I think I found my game again in Madrid. I played well there and in Paris. In Halle I think the performances were good. That's why I'm confident for Wimbledon."

Federer goes into his first round match against Alejandro Falla today as the top seed but only as world No 2, with Rafael Nadal having overtaken his great rival after regaining his French Open crown.

With the Spaniard having missed Wimbledon last year through injury, he is guaranteed to hold onto top spot irrespective of results at the All England Club. Federer, though, insists it is not a major blow. "It doesn't change a whole lot," he added. "It's about winning Wimbledon again. Mentally I didn't go crazy after my loss at the French. It was all digested very quickly."

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Much has been made of the apparent generational shift in tennis, with Federer, the Williams sisters and Francesca Schiavone all winning grand slam titles in their late 20s.

The man Federer beat in the Wimbledon final last year, Andy Roddick, begins his bid to go one better against Rajeev Ram tomorrow, and he believes it is all about the individual players.

The 27-year-old said: "It's cyclical. Three years from now it could be different. Two, three years ago when Rafa (Nadal] was still being Rafa, Murray and Djokovic were establishing themselves, all the talk was of the young guys coming through. Now it's pushing back. The bottom line is, regardless of what year you were born in, if you can play, you have a place in the game."