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Fresh optimism spurs Safin's approach

Safin confessed that one of his biggest tasks for the Australian tennis will be getting accustomed to the new blue court colour.

sports Updated: Jan 08, 2008 17:08 IST

Marat Safin confessed on Tuesday that one of his biggest tasks for the Australian tennis summer will be getting accustomed to the new blue court colour, which he will confront for the first time as he plays in the AAMI Classic tune-up.

"It's different, we're used to playing on green," the 2005 Australian Open winner said as he prepared to start his season against Andy Murray on Wednesday at the eight-man warm-up event at Kooyong club.

"The first impression? It's a little bit not normal. But you can get used to it in a couple of days."

Australian events have fallen into line behind the Open, which begins Monday, exchanging 20 years of green Rebound Ace for Plexicushion, which is meant to be a touch faster.

The jury is still out on the speed issue among players.

Safin said that he is again enthusiastic about his tennis after stopping in October due to continual poor form. "I've been working for six weeks in Spain - I got here early to get used to the colour. I think it could a good year for me.

"My knee doesn't hurt, hopefully I can stay this way for the whole season."

Andy Roddick, who plays Croatian Ivan Ljubicic in his opener, said he's not bothered that the Australian Open caters to Aussie players.

"At a home Grand Slam, it should be favouring your own players. I'd be upset if US Open was really, really slow. New York has always favoured the Americans, I think it's natural."

The event suffered a body blow on Monday as Roger Federer withdrew with a stomach virus three days after arriving in Melbourne from his training base in Dubai.

He was followed by German Tommy Haas, whose recovery from shoulder surgery needs another week.

Organiser Colin Stubs had to work flat-out for replacements, lining up world number four Russian Nikolay Davydenko and 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.

Reports from his camp indicated that Federer may need most of the week to shake his virus and is resting under doctor's orders.

The Swiss is on track for an Australian Open hat-trick after winning the last two editions and standing just two Grand Slam titles shy of the all-time best of 14 held by Pete Sampras.

Other Wednesday matches include Davydenko versus Baghdatis and a Latin showdown between 2007 Open finalist Fernando Gonzalez and David Nalbandian.

Roddick, who won Kooyong a year ago over Federer only to suffer one of his 16 career losses against the Swiss a fortnight later in the Open semis, said he's not worried about his rival making it to the court when it counts.

"None of us are worried about his preparation for the Open," he said. "I'll sleep OK tonight."