- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2011

PARIS (AP) - It’s been eight years since the last time Roger Federer was not seeded No. 1 or 2 at a Grand Slam tournament.

It’s also been that long since he went more than 12 months without winning any major title.

With the French Open starting Sunday, top-seeded Rafael Nadal’s pursuit of a record-tying sixth championship at Roland Garros and second-seeded Novak Djokovic’s 37-0 start to the season are dominating the conversation.

The focus, for a change, is not on the third-seeded Federer, owner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles, including the 2009 French Open. And he sounds as if he is absolutely fine with that.

“This is definitely a year for me where I can come into this tournament with just a little less pressure than, let’s say, the last six, seven years, really,” said Federer, whose first-round match against Feliciano Lopez of Spain is scheduled for Monday.

Djokovic, who could face Federer in the semifinals, also is slated to play Monday, while Nadal’s opening match will be Tuesday. Men in action Sunday include No. 7 David Ferrer and two-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt; 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and 2010 runner-up Sam Stosur are among the women on the Day 1 schedule.

“Last year, I was the defending champion. The year before _ and the years before that _ I was trying to win (in) Paris for the first time. So I’ve always had that big cloud hanging over, and the, ‘Am I ever going to win the French Open?’ question,” Federer said. “This year, maybe they expect more from Rafa and Novak, and that could be a good thing for me _ and more pressure for them.”

For their part, Nadal and Djokovic are more than willing to declare the other the man to beat in Paris.

Asked whether he deserves that label, Nadal rolled his eyes and shook his head and replied: “No. No, probably this year the favorite is Djokovic.”

That was relayed to Djokovic, who smiled and declared: “I say he’s the favorite.”

Djokovic has won all seven tournaments he’s entered this season and all seven matches he’s played against Nadal _ whom he beat in clay-court finals at Madrid and Rome this month _ and Federer. The Serb also won his last two matches of 2010, meaning he’s at 39 in a row overall.

So Djokovic is closing in on the Open era records for most victories to start a season (John McEnroe’s 42 in 1984) and longest winning streak (Guillermo Vilas’ 46 in 1977).

“I don’t feel unbeatable,” said Djokovic, whose two Grand Slam titles came at the 2008 and 2011 Australian Opens. “Nobody is unbeatable, even though I had an incredible run that keeps going.”

Nadal, meanwhile, has won 38 of his 39 matches at Roland Garros, taking the title five of the past six years. One more trophy would match Bjorn Borg for most by a man in French Open history.

The Spaniard turns 25 during the tournament’s second week, and if he wins, he would be the second-youngest man _ trailing only Borg _ to collect his 10th Grand Slam trophy.

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