Roger Federer: Why Rafael Nadal's Absence Makes Fed Express Man to Beat

Steven SlivkaCorrespondent IIIJanuary 9, 2013

Roger Federer heads into the Australian Open with a clear mind and a little less competition.
Roger Federer heads into the Australian Open with a clear mind and a little less competition.USA TODAY Sports

Roger Federer is only three years removed from winning the 2010 Australian Open, yet the No. 2 tennis player in the world isn't getting any respect as this year's Australian Open is set to begin.

The four-time Aussie Open winner is 31-years old, and it's no secret he is no longer on the upside of his illustrious career in which he's already won 76 tournaments.

Having said that, Federer realizes the importance of this year's Australian Open and it just got a little easier for him knowing his arch-rival, Rafael Nadal won't be playing in it.

The Federer-Nadal rivalry is one of the greatest rivalries in professional sports as the two men have combined to win 28 of the 37 Grand Slam titles from 2003-12.

Nadal is one of, if not the only player to have Federer's number throughout his career. He's beaten Federer in 13 out of 19 finals they've squared off in, including an 8-2 advantage in Grand Slam titles.

Unlike other prominent rivalries like the Red Sox-Yankees and the Blackhawks-Red Wings, the Federer-Nadal rivalry has been equally dominated by both players.

Though Nadal has the edge over Federer on head-to-head matchups, the two men have equally owned the sport for nearly a decade.

Now that Nadal won't be playing in the first major tournament of 2013, a weight has been lifted off of Federer, especially since it was Nadal who knocked Federer out of last year's Australian Open in the semifinals.

The four-time Australian Open champ has also taken some time to rest and clear his mind heading into Melbourne. Federer hasn't competed since November, but according to Sports Illustrated, he has been practicing really hard and is hoping to go into 2013 with a clean mental slate.

It’s a bit of a different preparation for the Australian Open this year but I’m confident I am mentally refreshed, which I am, and physically I am fine and that I will play a good Australian Open.

Though Federer still has to worry about last year's champion Novak Djokovic and young Andy Murray in order to claim his fifth Aussie Open title, a peace of mind and the absence of his arch-rival will make things easier for him.

Federer understands the importance of toning down the physicality at the age of 31, and it is safe to say he wouldn't have taken time off unless he felt it was necessary (via Sports Illustrated):

For me, in the long run, I want to stay healthy and enjoy what I am doing, I want to have fun, I want to be excited and motivated coming back to the Tour. For that I really need to get away from it all, which I have done for the last two or three weeks now after an incredible busy South American trip and an incredible busy year so it is important for me to have the family time.

The man has his priorities in order, and a little vacation never hurt anybody. He comes into the Australian Open healthy both physically and mentally, and more determined to bring home his 18th Grand Slam title.

Nadal's absence certainly doesn't hurt his chances of winning, either.