LONDON, June 22 – Roger Federer begins his campaign for a sixth Wimbledon title, and a record 15th major, rejuvenated by finally lifting his French Open jinx and seeing injured rival Rafael Nadal limp out of contention.
Twelve months ago, Federer’s five-year All England Club domination was brought to an end by Nadal in a five-set classic now widely regarded as the greatest Grand Slam final of all time.
But with deposed Roland Garros champion Nadal forced to pull out to rest his injured knees, Federer has a golden opportunity to move within one title of Pete Sampras’s record of seven Wimbledon triumphs.
"I don’t feel like I have extra pressure," said world number two Federer.
"There’s a lot of weight off my shoulders since Paris. So I’m entering tournaments a little bit more relaxed these days."
Federer will open proceedings on Centre Court against Taiwan’s Yen-Hsun Lu on Monday in what will be his first tennis since beating Robin Soderling in the Roland Garros final.
He missed the grasscourt tournament at Halle last week, but is now refreshed and ready to go.
"I was mentally drained because I felt like I had to play like four finals at the end of Paris because of the pressure," he said.
Federer is a player reborn.
Five months ago, his tearful exit after losing to Nadal in the Australian Open final was interpreted as an emotional confession that his era was over.
But marriage and impending fatherhood have given the 27-year-old a new perspective on his personal life while his Paris breakthrough, which took him level with Sampras on 14 majors, have combined to make him the overwhelming favourite.
"I have achieved more than I ever thought I would," said Federer.
"My dream as a boy was to win Wimbledon one day. I won that five times, like one wasn’t enough.
"I think I still have many more tournaments to go and many more Grand Slams. I am not addicted to beating all possible records, but I’m very proud of them."
With Nadal sidelined, Federer’s likely title rivals will be Andy Murray, who’s bidding to become the first British men’s champion since Fred Perry in 1936, former two-time runner-up Andy Roddick and world number four Novak Djokovic.
Murray, buoyed by being the first British winner at Queen’s since Bunny Austin in 1938, boasts a 6-2 winning record over Federer.
A quarter-final place last year is his best showing at Wimbledon where he was outclassed by Nadal in straight sets.
The 22-year-old world number three vowed not to get distracted by the desperate hype of the home crowds.
"A lot of people use it as an excuse as to why a Briton hasn’t won Wimbledon for so long but I don’t feel it makes any difference once the tournament starts," he said.
"It’s easy to get caught up in all of the hype. But I’ll prepare the same as I do for all the big tournaments.
"I would love to win Wimbledon one day, but I don’t think about it too much. I could easily lose in the first round if I have an off day."
World number four Djokovic was the runner-up on grass at Halle, but immediately wrote off his chances at Wimbledon where last year he was knocked out in the second round by Marat Safin.
Recently-married Roddick, the runner-up to Federer in 2004 and 2005, has plenty to prove.
It’s been six years since the American won his one and only Grand Slam title, but that 2003 US Open triumph preceded the Federer-Nadal era and the fear remains that Roddick’s game is too unsophisticated for the new age.