Phenomenal Federer's primary competition in 2005 is himself

The Swiss player's dominant 2004 will be repeated this year, says Nick Bolletieri, who believes the 23-year-old Wimbledon champion could win all four Grand Slams
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The Independent Online

There Are three stages to winning a tennis match - control, hurt and finish. And Roger Federer, the world's best player by a margin and with all the tools to become the best of all time, is a master at all three.

There Are three stages to winning a tennis match - control, hurt and finish. And Roger Federer, the world's best player by a margin and with all the tools to become the best of all time, is a master at all three.

That is why he is rightly the hot, hot favourite to win the first Grand Slam tournament of the season, which starts in Australia on Monday. I have no choice but to predict he will win.

For the first time in many, many years, it's possible to look at a player and believe he has a solid chance of winning all four Slams.

That is an unbelievable thing to be able to say, but in Federer's case it is true. The closest parallel I can draw is with Lance Armstrong in recent years in the Tour de France. As soon as his name appeared on the entry list, it was hard to see any other winner.

At such a level of performance, an athlete is no longer competing against the field but against himself. The thinking is: "How far can I push this? What new boundaries can I break?" Defeat, if and when it comes, arrives not because of opponents' superiority but because of a dip in phenomenal standards.

Just as everyone played catch-up with Armstrong, willing the guy just to take a tumble and fall off his bike, so it is with Federer at the moment. What can you do to stop him but hope that he eats something that doesn't agree with him, or just falls over? When other players are thinking like this - and believe me, they are - it shows the measure of his dominance.

But statistics show Federer's dominance anyway. Winning streaks of 20-plus matches. Months on end when his service isn't broken. No defeats in his last 14 finals. Three Grand Slam titles in 2004, plus eight other titles.

How does he do it? We know all about his all-round game: the powerful, accurate, varied serve; the peerless shot-making; the unrivalled forehand; the awesome returns; the almost supernatural reading of the game.

But it is consistency in all these things that matters. Control, hurt, finish. Every single ball that Federer hits has a purpose. He controls the court, controls his opponents. He moves them around, unsettles them, pressures them, dominates them. All of them.

There are very few realistic challengers to him in Melbourne, and even their records against Federer last year tell their own story.

Andy Roddick, with a new coach, Dean Goldfine - whose emphasis with Andy is on strenuous physical training - will show us this year what he is really made of. In 2004, he played Federer three times, in three finals, including Wimbledon, and lost three times.

Lleyton Hewitt, itching to be a winner on home soil, had an excellent 2004, something of a renaissance. He lost six out of six against Federer, including the final of the Masters Cup in Houston.

Marat Safin, who's starting to get his mind in the right place and should not be underestimated, lost three of three to Federer, including last year's Australian Open final.

Tim Henman beat Federer once last year, in Rotterdam, but lost twice, including in the US Open semi-final. He lost again to him yesterday, 6-4, 6-2, in the Kooyong Invitational. I cannot see Tim stopping Federer in a Slam. Federer said the other day that he believed Henman would win a Slam one day. All I can say to that is: "Are you not going to be at that tournament, Roger?"

Quite simply, I believe 2005 will be Federer's year again.

On the women's circuit, it is a sad year already and it has barely started. The Australian Open holder, Justine Henin-Hardenne, is injured and cannot defend her title. Also absent is her fellow Belgium, last year's runner-up, Kim Clijsters. Jennifer Capriati is missing, injured, and with ongoing questions about her health. Lindsay Davenport is trying to defy the years but is hardly in peak condition, while Serena and Venus Williams are not the forces of the recent past.

In Melbourne, I don't see victory for Davenport, the No1 seed, nor for the No2 seed, Amélie Mauresmo, who has all the tools and ability but not, I feel, the mindset to win. I don't think the No3 seed, Anastasia Myskina, has enough ability to hurt her opponents to win this time either.

Which leaves me having most faith in a trio of Russians, seeded No4, No5 and No6, headed by Maria Sharapova. I think she will have a great year, and she is my selection in Melbourne - ahead of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva - but not with the same conviction as I back Federer.

Maria had a huge 2004, she is the one everyone wants to beat. Roger had a huge 2004, but right now, beating him is off most opponents' radar.