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    Finalist in Rome, Roger Federer is now heading to Paris.

    n 2013. This is a unique situation for the Swiss, who has never gone through such a barren stretch to start a season ever since he first joined the main circuit in 2001. Indeed, he has only made one final so far, at last week's ATP Masters 1000 in Rome. Has he left it too late to round into form in time for Roland Garros?

     "You don't expect to win that easily against Roger," said no less an observer than Rafael Nadal, who was as incredulous as most after beating Federer 6-1, 6-3 in the final in Rome, the last major tournament before the French Open. The man with 17 Grand Slam titles to his name has turned the start of the 2013 season into a race against the clock, having chosen to ease his way into the year by playing just six tournaments between January and May. This also backfired somewhat when he got knocked out early on in Madrid in his first appearance on clay.

    Having shed blood, sweat and tears to get back to the No.1 slot in the world in 2012, Federer has certainly taken things a little easier in the first five months of 2013, having an incredible seven-week sabbatical between March and May in view of the packed programme that he will have between the French and the US Open. "I'm looking at the long term," he said, fully aware of the yreactions he is provoking. "The short term is obviously important as far as confidence is concerned but I'm looking further ahead. People are talking, but if I win a major then all of a sudden, I'll be the best in the world again."

    "I'm not as tired and that might be an advantage"

    Despite his lack of results, which sees him sixth in the Race for this calendar year, Federer insists that he knows exactly what he is doing. "I'm concentrating on my level of play, I'm happy with what I'm achieving and I've got into a good rhythm in training. I'm where I wanted to be. It's good to get some confidence on clay, I'm playing well and I'm healthy. I tried a few things out against Rafa (in the Rome final) like all-out attack, even if I didn't manage to do it quite right. I'll think I'm ready for a semi or a final at a major."

    The 2009 French Open winner and five-time finalist at Roland Garros also thinks that it is an advantage to have played less than his peers. "I'm only just starting to play well, whereas the other guys might be getting mentally tired after months and months of competition. I'm not as tired as they are and that might be an advantage." When a man of Federer's experience speaks, it is worth listening to – after all, he has not fallen before the quarter-final stages of a Grand Slam since Roland Garros 2004, when he lost to three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten. This record of 35 consecutive quarter-finals demonstrates how he has dominated tennis over the past decade – and how well he knows how to prepare for the majors. Like a good Swiss timepiece, Federer shows no signs of slowing.

    Guillaume Willecoq

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