How will the Swiss master go in his first appearance of the Australian summer?

Roger Federer begins his pursuit of a 21st grand slam – and seventh at Melbourne Park – in his record 21st consecutive Australian Open appearance but his first match since the ATP Tour finals in November.

Federer will go into a battle against world No.81 Steve Johnson, a rival renowned for his deft slice backhands.

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The American has played Federer twice before. They met in the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2016, with Federer prevailing 6-2 6-3 7-5.

On Saturday, Federer backed the Australian Open’s new air quality policy.

“Go in the streets, ask the people if they want it to move from Melbourne or from Australia. No, I don’t worry,” Federer said.

“From what we were told in the player meeting, the Olympic Games and other competitions have the numbers set at 300. Ours is set at 200.

“From that standpoint, I think we’re moving in a very safe range. We’re not here for six months straight at over 200, 300, you know. That’s when maybe effects really become bad.

“I don’t worry too much, to be honest. I worry more for everybody else who is in the fire, in the smoke.

“Also we can stay indoors all day, quickly go out and play, go back in again. It’s not like we’re stuck outside at all times.

“I think we’re going to get through it and it should be fine. It shouldn’t move, no.”

Federer seemed offended at claims he and Nadal didn’t do enough to represent the suffering lower-ranked players in qualifying, saying he’d been in the tournament office last Tuesday closely monitoring the situation.

“I think we’re all confused,” he said.

“Is it super unsafe or is it totally safe to play? The problem on top of it, it was actually quite hot, too … some players are not used to playing at 35, 33 degree heat, especially if you’ve practised on the indoor season.

“I’m not saying they’re not ready or whatever it is, but it can always hit you. Of course, everything gets put down on it was the smoke. For sure, it can be nothing else.

“So what can I do? I can go to the office, speak to them.”

The 20-times grand slam champion said he understood the players’ frustrations and that communication between tournament officials and competitors was the key to another happy slam.

“I don’t think I can do more than what I did,” Federer said.

“I’m on the council. I’ve been on the tour for so long. I came through the lower ranks, the juniors.

“At the end of the day, we all care for one another.”

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