Roger and Rafa enjoy having a new favourite on the block

Roland Garros may be basking in glorious sunshine but there is one chap in particular who is enjoying clear skies of another kind - world no.3 Roger Federer. The Swiss master may have notched up an impressive tally of 16 Grand Slams during his career, but he freely admits that a "big cloud" has always hung over him at the French Open. Of course, that cloud floated away when he lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires in 2009 after losing to Rafael Nadal in the final three years in a row, and now, two years on, Federer is entering the tournament with what he describes as a "little less pressure" for the first time in seven years. "Last year I was the defending champion," he said. "The year before, and the years before that I was trying to win Paris for the first time."

Now all eyes are on Novak Djokovic and his incredible 37-match winning streak to open the season, not to mention the threat posed by five-time Roland Garros champion Nadal. "I think this year maybe they expect more from Rafa and Novak, and that could be a good thing for me and more pressure for them," Federer continued. "In the French Open I was never the top favourite. It's true I didn't have as much pressure here than in other tournaments, but this year I have even less pressure because Rafa wants to keep his title and Novak wants to win it."

Nadal meanwhile refuses - as is his wont - to accept that he is a favourite for the title, claiming that this "honour" lies firmly at the feet of Djokovic. "Even last year or three years ago when you told me 'You are the favourite', I didn't feel like this," the humble defending champion said. The Majorcan is under no illusion about the enormity of the task he will face in the first round against John Isner, the 6'9" American who helped create Wimbledon history last year with his three-day marathon first round win over Nicolas Mahut that took 11 hours, five minutes and finished 70-68 in the fifth set. "Thinking about winning the tournament before the start of the tournament is too arrogant for me," Nadal said. "I will have a very difficult round against Isner in the first round, so I am focused on that."

And what of his new arch-rival Djokovic - the man who has defeated him in four consecutive ATP Masters 1000 finals this year? "He's playing well and the confidence is high. For that reason he's doing everything well. So the thing is he's good and we can congratulate him for everything, because what's he's doing is very difficult," he added. Far be it from Nadal to rain on anybody's parade....

Date: 22.05.2011, Source: Roland Garros


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