MELBOURNE, Australia – Even Roger Federer says he's excited to see if No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal can achieve the greatly hyped "Rafa Slam."
Nadal's quest to win his fourth consecutive Grand Slam at the Australian Open has shifted the spotlight from Federer, the once unstoppable Swiss who is defending champion but currently second place in his long rivalry with the muscled Spaniard.
As the new season begins, it is Nadal's turn to chase history. The 24-year-old is bidding to become the first man in 42 years to win four straight Grand Slam tournaments, since Rod Laver achieved it in 1969.
"It's a very exciting Australian Open, to see if Rafa can do it," Federer soberly told a pre-tournament news conference Saturday, not looking terribly excited. "If I get a chance, I hope I can stop him, obviously."
Nadal says he is recovering from a cold but is "not perfect yet."
"I'm better than a few days ago, so that's very positive," said Nadal, who will play his first-round match against Marcos Daniel of Brazil. "I hope (it's) not going to be a problem for Monday or Tuesday. I don't know yet."
Nadal's been asked so many times about how it would feel to win a "Rafa Slam," he doesn't want to discuss it anymore.
"I think is better if we continue with another question because for me, seriously, I can't answer this question," he said, adding that he was focused on winning the tournament and not making or breaking records.
Last year was a phenomenal one for Nadal. He won the 2010 French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, bringing his Grand Slam trophy count to nine.
It was the Roland Garros victory that propelled Nadal back to No. 1 in the rankings, coinciding with Federer's slump. The Swiss star was overpowered in the quarterfinals in Paris, ending a run of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinal appearances.
Fresh from a confidence-boosting win at the Qatar Open last week, Federer is vying for his fifth Australian Open title and his 17th Grand Slam singles victory. Federer's own quest to win four majors in a row has been twice thwarted by Nadal at the French Open.
The stoic Swiss said he hasn't set any goals for this year beyond defending his title in Melbourne.
"My focus is purely on the Australian Open right now, and then I'll go for the rest after that," said Federer, who faces Lukas Lacko in the first round.
He shrugged off a question about whether all the attention on Nadal has stoked his desire to reclaim the top ranking.
"Look, I think it's unbelievable what Rafa's been able to do. That in some ways makes him the favorite for this tournament," Federer said.
Nadal strongly disagrees.
"No, for sure, No!" Nadal said when informed Federer had labeled him "the favorite."
"I for sure am feeling less favorite than him — and not more favorite than Djokovic, Murray, Soderling, these kind of players?" Nadal replied, referring to No. 3 Novak Djokovic, No. 4 Robin Soderling and No. 5 Andy Murray.
For the other players, the gap between Rafa and Roger is not too big.
"They're the two best players in the world, deservedly," said Djokovic, last year's U.S. Open finalist and winner of the 2008 Australian Open. "I'm in this small group of players behind them that is trying to challenge them in each event."
Another man in that small group agrees. Asked to name this year's favorite, Murray couldn't pick one.
"Roger and Rafa," said Murray, last year's runner-up. He reflected on another debate at this year's tournament: the merits of Nadal's quest for four majors in a row compared to the calendar year Grand Slam.
"To me, I think if you hold all four Grand Slams, it's one of the best achievements in sport," Murray said, and then smiled. "And I really hope he doesn't do it."