| Roger Federer after winning the Qatar Open on Saturday. (AP)
Doha: World number one Roger Federer believes he has recovered from the crippling foot injury which decimated the end of his 2005 season as he set his sights on confirming his place as the world’s greatest player in 2006.
The Swiss star successfully defended his Qatar Open title with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) win over French teenager Gael Monfils to wrap up his 34th career crown and then insisted he was feeling fine on court.
“I couldn’t have had a better start to the season. I am really excited especially after the trouble with my foot. It really showed I am over it, I really think that,” said Federer.
The reigning Wimbledon and US Open champion damaged his foot in practice in the autumn and was on crutches in the run-up to Masters Cup in Shanghai.
The injury proved a barrier in his defence of the title where he was beaten in the final by David Nalbandian.
On Saturday, against the 19-year-old Frenchman, the Swiss star moved comfortably, hit deceptively hard with his inside out forehand and also came into the net more than usual.
Perhaps more significantly it was also Federer’s 45th successive win on hard courts, the surface on which he will try to regain the title at the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open, which will begin in Melbourne in a week’s time.
“I knew that all it takes is the chance of one big win for a young player to break through,” said Federer of the ambitious 19-year-old Monfils.
“So I knew that this was a dangerous match. I could have closed him out earlier. I had a lot of opportunities, especially in the second set, but then I should be happy I got the first set 6-3 (after nearly being 1-4 down).
“It was a tricky match. It was someone I have never played before, not even in practice. It took me five games to get used to the feel of the pattern.
Federer did not start well, making three unforced errors in his opening service game and dropping it. And when he earned a point to break back immediately he was not able to take it.
Surprisingly Monfils, who claimed not to have done himself justice in his three previous finals, looked completely relaxed. He even came close to going 4-1 and two breaks of ahead when he got Federer at 15-40 on the champion’s next service game.
Federer played his way immaculately out of that hole, and at 3-2 Monfils showed his first signs of inexperience, over-pressing with two backhand straight drives, over-hitting with both, dropping serve and suffering an immediate decline of confidence, and losing 13 points in a row.
By now Federer was playing with smooth assurance, even if he was not quite at his best, and rapidly closed out the first set in full control.