Novak Djokovic will take aim at the first title defence of his career from Monday as the Serb begins play at the Barclays Championships against Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez at the event, which is missing Roger Federer for the second year in succession.

The Swiss was forced into a pullout due to a lung infection which doctor says — with care — cold be cured in a fortnight.

“I’m hoping to be back for Indian Wells,” said the 16-time Grand Slam winner.

“But of course there are no promises,” said Federer, who looked just slightly under the weather on a lawn in the shadow of the seven-star Burj al Arab hotel, which houses Djokovic and Murray this week in suite splendour.

“This is something that with proper treatment will be finished,” said Federer, whose 2008 season was compromised by a case of glandular fever.

“I’ve been taking it easy, relaxing as much as possible. My breathing is a bit difficult and everything feels a bit slow. I can’t take any chances until I’m fit again.

“It could be better, it could be worse.” Djokovic, with 16 titles including the 2008 Australian Open, has never backed up a tournament title. “I’d like to do that here for the first time in my career,” confessed the Serb, winner of five trophies in 2009.

“I’ve played well here the last few years, I hope I can perform at my best again.” Djokovic remains on the second seeding which mirrors his world ranking behind Federer, with Andy Murray the number three this week in the Gulf after being forced to withdraw a year ago with illness at the quarterfinal stage.

Both seed expressed disappointment at Federer’s absence.

“It’s disappointing for the event but if he’s sick and not feeling well..,” said Murray. “He played through illness a few years back (glandular fever) and it didn’t do him much good.

“You don’t want to let those things drag on.” Murray, who beat Federer in the Dubai opening round two years ago, said the would miss the challenge against the man who defeated him for the Australian Open title three weeks ago.

“I always enjoy playing against him. It’s always a challenge for me and I would have loved to have had the chance. But it’s not to be.” Murray begins his campaign on Monday as he takes on Russian Igor Kunitsyn.

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