Federer: “Clay swing pivotal in battle for No. 1”

The battle to finish year-end World No. 1 in the South African Airways 2011 ATP Rankings is fast turning into a three-horse race between Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, and the Swiss believes the European clay-court swing could play a pivotal role in separating the three.

It was at this stage last season that Nadal let fly, winning 22 successive matches as he swept the three clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000s and Roland Garros, before going on to win Wimbledon and the US Open over the summer. Should the Spaniard do the same again, Federer pointed out, it would be quite the task for someone to wrest the No. 1 ranking from his grip.

"I guess it depends a lot on Rafa," said Federer on Sunday at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, where he will contest the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters next week. "If he's able to defend everything he did last year, it's going to be tough for anybody because then he has three straight Masters 1000s and the French Open in the bag as well. He had super solid results at the end of the season as well, winning the [US] Open, so forth. It all depends a little bit on Rafa."

Federer was absent from Monte-Carlo last year, suffering from the after-effects of pneumonia, and struggled for consistency on the clay on his return, reaching the final in Madrid, but falling in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and the second round in Rome. With points aplenty to pick up over the next four months, Federer is hopeful he can make significant strides.

"I feel very strong on the surface. It's the surface I grew up on. Everybody knows that by now. I can make a huge step forward," said the Basel native. "In my situation, if I can go really deep here in Monaco, and also in Rome and so forth, then clearly I don't have much to defend at the French [Open] and Wimbledon. I'll have some opportunities as well, especially when the slams roll around.

"I think there's a lot to play for us in the next three, four months. Sure, I know Rafa has a lot of pressure, but I don't think that matters that much for him, especially on this surface. He's so confident, he's so good; I definitely could see him doing it again. But there are other guys that have something to say. I hope I'm one of those guys."

World No. 2 Djokovic has been forward to withdraw from Monte-Carlo with a knee injury, putting on hold his 26-match winning streak, and will return to action on home soil in Belgrade in two weeks. Federer, along with the rest of the tennis world, will be watching with interest to see if the Serbian can maintain his rich vein of form on the clay.

"Right now it's clicking for him. I think it's great for the game that he's managed to play so well and go on a streak. But Rafa's had streaks in the past, [Andy] Murray has had streaks, I've had streaks. It's good when that happens. It focuses on something very positive in the game. It's going to be interesting to see how long he can keep it up and stay mentally and physically strong because he's had a long end to the year last year and he started really strong this year."

Federer and Nadal will get a head start on Djokovic on the clay when they compete at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. The 29-year-old Federer is bidding to win the coveted title for the first time, after three runner-up efforts from 2006-2008. He will open his campaign against Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.

Date: 10.04.2011, Source: ATP


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