Indian Wells: With his confidence sky-high after winning five of his last seven tournaments, Roger Federer returns to one of his favourite venues for the Masters Series event starting this week.
The Swiss world number three has triumphed three times at the state-of-the-art Indian Wells Tennis Garden and will be difficult to beat on the hardcourt surface with his defensive skills now possibly better than ever.
Long regarded as one of the most elegant and aggressive serve-and-volley players of all time, Federer has had to improve the resilience of his baseline game in recent years in a bid to blunt the twin challenge of Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
"I`ve just been confident," Federer told reporters in the build-up to the first Masters Series event of the year, referring to his impressive run of form since his semi-final loss to Djokovic at last year`s U.S. Open.
"I`ve been playing aggressive, I was focused and I didn`t doubt my ability. I`m defending much better than I was in the middle of last year when I felt like I couldn`t come out of tough defensive positions.
"I was able to sort of turn it around. Now I just have to keep it up."
Though Federer has not claimed a grand slam singles crown since the 2010 Australian Open, he has piled up 10 ATP World Tour titles during that span.
"I`ve had a great stretch," said the Swiss, who beat Andy Murray 7-5, 6-4 to win the Dubai Championships on Saturday. "It`s about keeping up the good work and hopefully playing even better tennis, or at least maintaining this level of playing."
Federer, a 16-times grand slam winner, has always loved competing in the California desert at Indian Wells.
"This tournament has worked out well for me, winning three titles in a row and playing some of my best tennis here," said the 30-year-old, who is seeded to meet Nadal in the semi-finals.
"I`ve had some great finals, big matches, and I always enjoy playing at Indian Wells. The surface really suits my game, my slice stays low, the kick goes up and the ball travels quickly through the air."
Despite losing to Federer in last week`s final, Murray also arrives in the California desert with high hopes.
"I did everything pretty good (last week)," the Briton said. "I was happy I managed to adjust to the court after a couple matches, because I was struggling at the beginning of the week."
"It turned out to be a very good week. The conditions in Indian Wells ... are going to be very, very different ... a much slower court, which hopefully will suit my game a little bit better."
Australian Open champion Djokovic, who beat Spaniard Nadal in last year`s final at Indian Wells, is the top seed with Nadal seeded second, Federer third and Murray fourth.
Among the leading contenders in the women`s competition, starting on Wednesday, are holder Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and second-ranked Russian Maria Sharapova.