It may sound unrealistic coming from a man who in 2009 won Wimbledon and the French Open and finished runner-up in the two other Grand Slam events, but Roger Federer is aiming to improve on his title haul this year. The world No 1 believes he can win "many more" tournaments than he did in the previous 12 months and showed yesterday that he would like to make an immediate start, taking just 57 minutes to beat Belgium's Christophe Rochus 6-1, 6-2 in the first round of the Qatar Open in Doha.
Rochus, the world No 86, was no match for the 28-year-old Swiss, who was aggressive from the beginning and regularly attacked the net. Federer dropped only five points on his serve in the first set, which he wrapped up with his fifth ace. Seven more followed in the second set as Rochus was pummelled into submission by a total of 47 winners. Federer now plays Russia's Evgeny Korolev.
After finishing 2008 with a back injury, Federer decided to focus his energies on the major events and won only two titles outside the Grand Slam competitions in 2009. "I hardly played any smaller events, but if I'm healthy this year I can win many more tournaments and that could also help get me more confidence, more momentum," Federer said.
In the three years from 2004 Federer won a total of 34 tournaments, but his hit rate has subsequently slowed. In 2007 he won eight titles, then four in each of the last two seasons.
"It's important to listen to your signals," Federer said. "I think that's one thing I did really well when I became No 1. I had all the things going for me and huge opportunities to go and chase money or tournaments around the world, but I said I'm not going to do it. I said I would look at the big picture – and it's been paying off. I'm very happy with my decisions over the years."
Federer's performances in 2009 were good enough to win back his world No 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal. "I would like to stay the top player in the world because going from No 2 to No 1 was hard work and not an easy thing to do, especially with Rafa playing so well," Federer said. "That was a major accomplishment and I would like to stay there as long as possible and try to finish 2010 as world No 1."
Nadal is also playing his first competitive tournament of the year in Doha and made a similarly impressive winning start, beating Italy's Simone Bolelli 6-3, 6-3 in an hour and 28 minutes. The match was decided by the big points: Bolelli, the world No 93, failed to capitalise on three opportunities to break serve, while Nadal converted three of his seven break points.
Kim Clijsters, who crowned her comeback last year with victory in the US Open, is planning to play a full schedule in 2010 and has already made a flying start at the Brisbane International. Her 6-0, 6-3 win yesterday over Australia's Alicia Molik earned a quarter-final place against the winner of today's meeting between Lucie Safarova and Aleksandra Wozniak.
Clijsters trained in Germany during the off season and, with the Australian Open less than a fortnight away, is looking in good shape. "After a few weeks of practising in the off season I was ready to come out here and play matches," the 26-year-old Belgian said. "I like to practise, but when I feel I'm ready, I want to start playing matches."
Ana Ivanovic also reached the quarter-finals but was unimpressive in a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 win over Timea Bacsinszky. The former world No 1's form dipped in the second set and in the decider she failed to serve out for victory before breaking in the following game.