MELBOURNE -- All the brilliant numbers came down to one simple equation for Roger Federer: He was two sets short of a Grand Slam season in 2006.
Federer returns to Melbourne Park this week as the overwhelming favorite and defending Australian Open champion, one of three majors he won while compiling a 92-5 record last year. Four of his losses were against second-ranked Rafael Nadal, including the French Open final, in which he won the first set before going down in four.
Federer was the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to make the finals in all four majors in a season (Laver won the Grand Slam that year).
But that was not quite good enough for the 25-year-old Swiss star. Federer skipped the season-opening Qatar Open, deciding he need a breather.
"You have to look at the big picture," he said. "I wanted to have a life, you know, have Christmas and New Year's and come here rested and not exhausted already. For me, it was most important to come to Melbourne in the mood to win the Australian Open, not come here and feel like it's a pain."
Federer got no favors in the draw. His third- and fourth-round opponents could be US Open semifinalist Mikhail Youzhny and former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, while last year's surprise finalist, Marcos Baghdatis, looms as a quarterfinal rival.
Nadal has a tough draw on the other side, including a tricky opener against Robert Kendrick, a possible third-round battle with Andy Murray, and either James Blake or Lleyton Hewitt after that.
While Federer's domination is daunting for the other men on tour, there has been no equivalent figure on the women's side since the demise of the Williams sisters.
US Open champion Maria Sharapova stepped into the top-seeded position after Justine Henin-Hardenne withdrew from her Australian tour for family reasons.
"I don't see it as putting any extra pressure on me," said Sharapova.
She will open against Camille Pin of France, and the first seeded player she could meet is No. 30 Tathiana Garbin in the fourth round.
Defending champion Amelie Mauresmo had her personal breakthrough last year, winning her first Grand Slam title after 11 years. She followed that up with another win at Wimbledon and spent most of the season at No. 1 before slipping to third.
The 19-year-old Sharapova warmed up at an exhibition tournament last week in Hong Kong, where she lost in the final to Kim Clijsters. Clijsters is determined to put up a big performance in what she expects will be her last Australian Open. At 23, she has decided to retire at the end of the year.
Serena Williams no doubt has contemplated retirement amid all her injuries, but thinks she can add to her seven Grand Slam singles titles. She won her last major here in 2005. She'll be without sister Venus, who pulled out with an injured wrist.