Tennis: Federer under French spell again

Thirteen years after falling to Pat Rafter on his Grand Slam debut in Paris, Roger Federer is poised to notch yet more milestones in his remarkable career tomorrow at the French Open.

Federer, contesting his 50th consecutive Grand Slam event, will also be gunning for his 50th win at Roland Garros when he opens against German Tobias Kamke.

And don't for a minute think the 16-times major champion hasn't cherished each and every one of his previous successes in the French capital.

"I've really loved this tournament," Federer said before launching his 14th straight campaign at Roland Garros.

"I struggled early on a bit because I had up and down results.

"It was a tough tournament for me from the start, whereas Wimbledon and New York in particular all felt very comfortable from the start.

"This is, though, the place where I got my first wildcard into a Grand Slam back in '99.

"I lost to Pat Rafter on Suzanne Lenglen [court], so I have great memories from back in the day, too.

"Obviously 2009 was very, very special winning here. Just the emotions were ridiculous and I got amazing crowd support.

"Same again, basically, last year, which was so nice to see.

"I have lived some special moments here in this town and in this place. I'm looking forward to it again this year."

Much focus this year is on world No 1 Novak Djokovic's quest to complete a rare non-calendar-year Grand Slam sweep and Rafael Nadal's bid to surpass Bjorn Borg's six titles in Paris.

But self-confessed third favourite and third seed Federer is quietly plotting to shatter Djokovic's dream in the semifinals - just as he snapped the Serb's astonishing 43-match winning streak last year at Roland Garros - and lift the crown for a second time.

"It would mean a lot to me because I've had some of those great emotions ... to relive those would be amazing, winning the title here no doubt," the 30-year-old Swiss said.

In claiming a tour-best four titles this season, Federer has endured some aches and pains along the way.

Ominously, though, he is back fighting fit.

"Physically, I'm fine. I feel really good," he said. "I feel right there where I want to be a few days before the event."

Djokovic also starts tomorrow, against Italian Potito Starace, and Federer said it would be "interesting to follow" the Serb's much-hyped Grand Slam attempt.

"It's great for the sport," Federer said. "But the hard part is - I mean, same for everyone - but every point you play, every game you play, the pressure you face, and just answering the questions time and time again."

Djokovic could face Lleyton Hewitt in the second round, but neither current nor former world No 1 was getting too far ahead of themselves.

"Starace is a claycourt specialist. It's not going to be an easy match," Djokovic said.

Hewitt meets Slovenian qualifier Blaz Kavcic tomorrow in his comeback match from foot surgery in February.

- AAP

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