Federer ready to defend Wimbledon title the hard way

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Switzerland’s Roger Federer. AFP / FABRICE COFFRINI

LONDON — Roger Federer insists he is capable of surviving a nightmare draw at Wimbledon as the defending champion prepares to launch his bid for a record eighth title at the All England Club.

After a relatively barren year, Federer arrives at the grass-court Grand Slam in the unusual position of being seen by many pundits as the least likely of the big four to leave with the title.

To make matters worse, the Swiss legend faces a gruelling draw that will leave him needing to beat Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic if he is to pass Pete Sampras as the most decorated All England Club champion.

With French Open champion Nadal seeded fifth due to his long injury absence, Federer has the unpalatable prospect of taking on the Spaniard in the last eight before a potential semi-final meeting with US Open champion Murray and a final showdown with world number one Djokovic.

Federer’s victory on grass at Halle last week was his first ATP Tour title of 2013 and last year’s Wimbledon final win over Murray remains his only Grand Slam crown in his last 13 major appearances.

The 31-year-old father of two is clearly entering the twilight of his magnificent career, yet he is convinced he can prove the critics wrong with another triumph at the tournament he regards as a home from home.

“It was never supposed to be easy winning Grand Slams. I’m ready for the challenge,” Federer said on Sunday.

“I like tough draws. I don’t shy away from them. There’s no control over it anyway. That’s up to the draw to decide.

“I have a very difficult draw with Rafa being in my quarter. But my focus is on the first round. If you want to win the tournament here, you anyway have to beat the best. That’s what I’m here for.”

Nadal’s low seeding attracted criticism given the Spaniard’s record at Wimbledon, where he has won the title twice, and his current fine form should have seen him placed above fourth seed David Ferrer.

But Federer said: “There’s been a lot of talk about where Rafa would be seeded. For me, it’s not even worth the talk because it is what it is. It’s not like he’s unseeded.

“He is seeded in the top eight, so you don’t face him in the first round and the quarter-finals are still a long way away.”

Federer also named British hope Murray as the most likely champion from his three main rivals.

Fuelled by a determination to make amends for last year’s Wimbledon final loss to Federer, Murray routed the Swiss to win the gold medal at the London Olympics and then ended his long wait for a maiden Grand Slam title by defeating Djokovic at the US Open.

“I think Murray played great last year throughout Wimbledon and the Olympics, and now again at Queen’s,” Federer said.

“I would think he has less pressure now and he seems like maybe most natural on this surface.

“The other guys, Rafa and Novak, are already Wimbledon champions. But to me Andy sort of stands out a little bit over the others.”

For Federer, this year’s Championships are also a time for reflection as he looks back to his first Wimbledon title against Mark Philippoussis 10 years ago.

Federer, who will open Monday’s Center Court program against Romania’s Victor Hanescu, said:

“It’s been an unbelievable 10 years. I’m forever grateful for the first Wimbledon title.

“The first time I was able to lift up the trophy, this is when the dream began of having an amazing career.

“I look back on the memories, emotions, reactions. It’s all happened a bit too fast for my liking, but I’m happy I’m still contending for the title.

“Being back 10 years later as defending champion is quite unique, so I’m very excited.”

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