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'New' Federer has victorious debut

1/14/2014 - Tennis Roger Federer

MELBOURNE, Australia -- He insists he is looking primarily to rediscover the free-flowing game that has always distinguished him, to shed himself of a young man's pressure to be perfect.

And yet it is impossible to listen to the 2014 edition of Roger Federer, who won his first-round match at the Australian Open on Tuesday, in a record 57th consecutive Grand Slam tournament, and not detect a very real desire to change and get better.

Demonstrated by a new racket that should give him more power and a new coach in Stefan Edberg he hopes will inspire him, Federer, a four-time champion here, easily dispatched Australian James Duckworth 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

On a day when 99-degree temperatures greeted players at 11 a.m. and reached 108 by 2 p.m., when Federer was on court, the 32-year-old looked almost fresh afterward.

Three-time defending women's champion Victoria Azarenka, who took the Rod Laver Court before Federer and defeated Johanna Larsson 7-6(2), 6-2, described conditions as "pretty hot, like you're dancing in a frying pan or something like that."

Caroline Wozniacki, who won a straight-set match against Lourdes Dominguez Lino that began at 11 a.m., said she put her plastic water bottle down on the hard court surface and the plastic melted.

But the only upset of the early afternoon -- 13th-seeded American John Isner retiring at 2-6, 6-7(6) against 106th-ranked Martin Klizan -- was caused not by the heat but by a lingering knee injury.

"I hurt it in Perth in the Hopman Cup and had to pull out of my last match there," said Isner, the highest-ranked American man. "I know my game isn't [based on] my movement, but at a certain point you've got to be able to move without pain, and I wasn't able to do that."

The object of the day was to get off the court both victoriously and quickly, and Federer, playing for the first time with Edberg as a coach, accomplished that.

"It was OK," Federer said. "There was not much rhythm out there. It was a matter of getting the job done and not getting broken. So it was a solid match from start to finish, yeah. I could have maybe won a few more break points here and there, but who cares now?"

It is that pressure-free attitude, Federer said, with which he played before a childhood idol who at one time would have made him nervous, and that he is determined to carry with him this year.

"At the moment, just getting through, beating the heat, with no injuries … I just want to play inspired tennis and enjoy it out there and not think I must play perfect, clean tennis," Federer said in his post-match, on-court interview. "I think it's going to pay off.

"There's a lot on the line, [but] there's always a lot on the line, and a few bad points here or there are not going to make any dent in my life or my career."

After getting past back problems he later admitted hampered much of a tough 2013 season, Federer clearly is not eyeing retirement as he embarks on the new year with a new racket 5 inches larger in circumference and a new coach he hopes will help re-energize his game.

"Obviously, he was a role model for me growing up, the way he conducted himself on the court, away from the court, in the press room," Federer said of Edberg, toward whom he shook at least one victorious fist Tuesday. "I learned a lot from him, and it's nice to have him in my corner and be able to just speak to him and be inspired by what he says about the game today and about how it used to be for him, maybe telling me stories.

"Just to spend time together for me is a big deal. I hope it's going to be a successful partnership as we move along."

Still, to get to the finals here, Federer would have to conceivably get by 10th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round, Andy Murray in the quarterfinals and Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. Fifth-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, also is in Nadal's quarter of the draw. Favored to reach the finals in the other half is five-time champion Novak Djokovic.

But Federer is not going there now, not going anywhere negativity resides.

"I'm not thinking about [last year's] Wimbledon [where he lost in the second round] or the US Open [where he lost in the fourth], even though those were my last two Slams, which didn't go well for me," he said.

"The way I entered this tournament now is very different. … So it's in the past, and the past you can't change anyway. I'm looking to the future. I have worked hard, put in the hard work, so from that standpoint, there are no regrets.

"I feel good, and it's about me. … I want to show, to prove to myself, that I can bring it every match. I'm really excited. It's a tough draw, but I'm open for it and I'm ready to go."