Roger Federer believes all the pressure will be on Novak Djokovic when the pair meet in the French Open semi-final on Friday.
Victory for Djokovic, the second seed, will see him replace Rafael Nadal as world No. 1; he would also equal John McEnroe’s 1984 record of 42 matches unbeaten at the start of a season.
On the ball: Roger Federer during his quarter-final match against Gael Monfils on Tuesday. AP
With so much on the line, Federer says he can afford to approach the encounter in a more relaxed frame of find than his adversary.
“There’s less at stake for me than for him,” says Federer, the 2009 champion. “He’s got a lot of things going on. I’d love to be in a Grand Slam final, because I haven’t achieved it for a few Slams, but it’s nothing major for me, as long as I keep playing well.”
The burgeoning rivalry between Nadal and Djokovic, who has beaten the Spaniard in three masters finals this year, has cast Federer in the unfamiliar role of support act.
The Swiss is seeded outside the top two at Roland Garros for the first Grand Slam since Wimbledon in 2003, while he has also been without a title at a major since the 2010 Australian Open.
Rising star: Djokovic has beaten Federer thrice this year. Reuters
Despite his crown having slipped, however, the 29-year-old, 16-time Grand Slam winner says he is not desperate to keep Djokovic from the No. 1 position. “It’s not the driving force behind this match, to be honest,” he said, after beating French ninth seed Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) in the last eight.
“For me the plan is trying to get a step further and into the final at the French Open. That’s the big picture, that’s what I entered for. It wasn’t to stop Novak,” he says.
Djokovic has assembled a 43-match winning streak since the end of 2010 and Federer says the 24-year-old world No. 2 was coping admirably with the strain of putting together such a run. “He’s keeping it up and he’s not making a big fuss about it, which is good for him,” says Federer. “It’s hard being asked the question—‘How many wins can you get?’—day in, day out. I’m sure it’s been tricky for him but he’s been doing a great job... The No. 1 is the big one for him now though, rather than the streak. So it’s going to be an interesting one,” he says.
Federer possesses a 13-9 win-loss record against Djokovic but has tasted defeat in their last three encounters, including a straight sets loss in the semi-finals of this year’s Australian Open.
They have not met on clay since Djokovic prevailed in the semi-finals of the 2009 Rome Masters, however, and Federer admits he will have to remind himself what it was like to tackle his Serbian rival on a clay court.
“We played quite a bit in a six-month period up to Indian Wells, maybe six or seven times,” says the Swiss. “This is obviously different, being on clay... We’ll have to see what the conditions are like on the day.”
He adds: “Against each other we tend to play positively and not give each other time. He’s been playing fantastic this season and I know I’ll have to play my best tennis... I don’t think you have to change a lot (to adapt to the surface), but I haven’t played him on clay for a long time.”
Djokovic, who beat Argentine 25th seed Juan Martin del Potro in Round 3 and French No. 13 seed Richard Gasquet in Round 4, was given a walkover in the quarter-finals after Italy’s Fabio Fognini withdrew with a thigh strain.
“Walkover from Fognini. Bad luck for him, hope he recovers fast. Today I get to enjoy Paris in a different way,” Djokovic tweeted after Fognini pulled out of their match on Monday.
The Serbian star, who claimed his second Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and has seven tournament wins to his name in 2011, has never gone beyond the last four at the French Open.
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