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A few years ago, in fact a few months ago, the Roger Federer opening press conference would have been the highlight of any pre-tournament build-up. Times change, however. With the Swiss 16-time Grand Slam winner now down to third in the world (and a relatively distant one at that) and very much playing second fiddle to the Nole and Rafa show, Federer now finds himself forced to talk about different subjects when facing the media.
“To me it doesn’t feel much different apart from having to add another three questions about it,” he said a little spikily. “Other than that… I can’t read Spanish so I haven’t read much of the press lately to be quite honest but I think they deserve the press that they are getting,” he said in reference to Djokovic and Nadal. “And if it’s good press, I’m always in favour of good stories and they have had a number of amazing matches as well over the years. (Djokovic) has also played the same amount of time that I have played against Rafa because they also played each other very often in the semis in the last few years and that is why I think it is good that these guys are playing so well at the moment. Obviously all the other players are right behind waiting for the opportunity to strike, and I am one of them. Basically I have only played semis or finals since Wimbledon last year and that is why I think I am in a position to do that. I again was really close up against Rafa and so all they need to do is to get that step further and I hope I will do that this week,” he said, alluding to the semi-final in Madrid where he took Nadal to three sets.
All the talk at the moment is whether the Serb can take the ATP no.1 ranking from the Majorcan – a feat he would accomplish if he were to win here and Nadal fall before the semi-finals. And what of Federer – stuck agonisingly on 285 weeks in the top slot, a mere seven days behind Pete Sampras’ record? “It’s important for me to get to back to being no.1. I said this at Wimbledon and it is still very real and very possible. I still have the World Tour Finals in my pocket and I don’t have any Grand Slams yet. If I maybe got one of those, things will change drastically all over the place. Right now these guys are playing better than me and better than the other players and that’s a fact. Novak is winning all the big tournaments with Rafa this year and that makes it difficult to get to the big tournaments, but I am in the position I want to be in and I am close to winning tournaments as well. I am feeling very good physically and it is definitely an interesting time right now that Novak has not lost all season long. It’s a very different situation but it has not changed very much other than I might be in the semi-final with Rafa. It’s not really much different to when I was no.1 or no.2 because then it was (Andy) Murray or Novak, and Nadal of course was also in my section once or twice. There have been really tough draws in the last years because everyone has been playing so consistently. I don’t think that Murray can’t play on clay or Rafa can’t play on grass or Novak struggles indoors. I think that everyone can play on all of the surfaces and this makes it extremely hard to win all of these big tournaments.”
Federer will get his Rome campaign under way on Wednesday against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who defeated Marcos Baghdatis in straight sets in the first round on Monday night. “I haven’t played that much against him – maybe three times or four times. I can definitely say that he also has the potential to play on clay. He is probably best on grass or hard courts, but I still think on clay he remains as dangerous because he has that wonderful serve with that the first punch with his forehand and he has really good physical ability to run around the court. I don’t know how he uses his strength on this surface but I am sure very well so I am going to try and prepare myself as well as I can and I am really looking forward to this match.”