Hunger for success still there says Federer

By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - A year after Rafa Nadal reduced Roger Federer to bitter tears by dashing his hopes of a record-equaling 14th grand slam at the Rod Laver Arena, life has come full circle for the Swiss maestro.

After beating Federer in the unforgettable 2008 Wimbledon final, Nadal's Australian Open victory in another epic five-set battle felt like the end of an era and, perhaps, the starting point of a long, slow decline for one of the game's great champions.

Instead Federer rallied to overtake Pete Sampras's record of 14 grand slam victories while handling the demands of marriage to Mirka and fatherhood to twin girls.

"I put in a lot of work last year to try to get back to number one," Federer told reporters Saturday.

"I was able to reach number one in the world and obviously back-to-back French and Wimbledon were an amazing accomplishment for me.

"And on top of that, on the personal note, that I was able to handle everything at the same time was quite fascinating for me actually as well."

He added: "It's exciting traveling the world as a family... It's going really well and it's been inspiring.

"They're all doing well and I'm also much more relaxed as well. Preparations have been good you know, the way I wanted, to get the practice session in and experiencing quality time with them so it's been a fun week."

MCENROE QUERIES MOTIVATION

Despite the business-as-usual attitude tinged with domestic bliss, commentators have queued up to question the Swiss's motivation.

"There's no tougher opponent than kids...To try to be the best player in the world as well as to be a great father and husband it gets quite complicated," seven-times grand slam champion and father of six John McEnroe told reporters at Melbourne Park this week.

"Roger loves the game so much so maybe it will be different. When I had kids for the first time, I thought I could handle both things.

"My first child was (at) 27 and I don't remember a whole lot of major wins from 27 on," added McEnroe, who joked that Federer had got the grand slam record out of the way before welcoming Charlene Riva and Myla Rose into the world.

The 28-year-old Swiss disagrees.

"With the hunger, of course there's always going to be speculation," he said.

"Once you have a family, (people) look at the history and see, 'oh, some players didn't win when they had family and so forth'.

"It's not easy to create a family when you're traveling so much, but the hunger is still there. I'm working as hard as I have ever been. I'm not just baby-sitting, you know. I also like to go out in the morning and put in the big hours."

The three-times champion's Australian Open lead up has not been ideal, with losses to Swede Robin Soderling and Russian Nikolay Davydenko at season-opening tournaments in the Middle East.

Far from shrugging off the losses, Federer's recent record has irked him, despite his air of tranquility.

"I maybe wasn't as successful as I wanted to be...in the last few tournaments," he said.

The feeling that he still has something to prove bodes ill for his first-round opponent Igor Andreev of Russia.

"I feel my game's really where it's supposed to be, so I can only put in the best effort I can and hope that the results will follow," Federer said.

(Editing by John Mehaffey)