Dubai - Roger Federer makes one of the earliest start of his career on Thursday when he and Rafael Nadal head the field at a rich six-man exhibition in tennis-starved Abu Dhabi.
The Swiss will be on court New Year's Day as he prepares to put behind a relatively modest 2008 campaign and focusses on re-taking the number one ranking from his Spanish rival.
"Never before have I started a tennis year as early as the one ahead," Federer told his website after a month of desert training at his base in Dubai.
"I'm looking forward to the entire season of 2009. There is such a large number of challenges lying ahead - facing them, working hard and giving my best to succeed is precisely why I love my job so much."
Also in the field: Andy Murray, Nikolay Davydenko plus Americans Andy Roddick and James Blake picking up some welcome spare change in these days of economic crisis.
While not disappointed in the season just ended a month ago, Federer knows he could have done better but has no complaints either.
"So having played another three Grand Slam finals and having brought home the US Open trophy as well as reaching Olympic heights together with Stan Wawrinka
(doubles gold medal) makes me just the more proud.
"I was honoured to receive the Laureus title as Athlete of the Year again and also lift the trophy at my home-tournament in Basel once more. These are some of the truly wonderful, emotional moments I had the privilege to experience," he said.
Federer will play his first ATP event starting on Monday at Doha before tuning up for the Australian Open in his customary fashion at the Kooyong event in Melbourne the week prior to the Grand Slam.
Federer lost the Wimbledon crown to Nadal last season, as the Spaniard also won a fourth consecutive French Open and took over number one for the first time shortly before the Beijing Olympics.
But Federer made up for some of his own disappointment in Beijing by claiming a fifth straight US open crown to stand one major away from levelling on the all-time best of
14 held by Pete Sampras.
"Looking back at the past 365 days a lot of unforgettable experiences come to mind," he said.
"I spent a great deal of the year battling with the lack of practice and hours of training that I faced at the time," said the Swiss, who played for the first half to 2008 suffering from the effects of glandular fever picked up a year ago. (dpa)