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French in hand, Federer looks forward to Wimbledon

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HOWARD FENDRICH | June 8, 2009 09:36 AM EST | AP

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PARIS — To Roger Federer, what's important is not only that he finally won the French Open.

It's how he did it.

"I didn't think I played the greatest tennis of my life throughout this tournament. But I definitely played the right way: I was smart. I was strong. I had to show fighting spirit and all those things," Federer said Monday. "It's different for me to come through this way, instead of just dominating everybody."

A day after beating Robin Soderling 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 to complete a career Grand Slam and earn a record-tying 14th major championship, Federer met with reporters at a hotel in central Paris. It's where he slept the past few weeks _ and where he drank champagne and celebrated until the wee hours Monday morning with a group of about 60 people.

"I'm just mentally drained and exhausted _ and just so happy and thrilled," Federer said, his new trophy in tow.

Of the 19 times he has reached the final of a Grand Slam tournament, equaling Ivan Lendl's mark, this was the first time Federer played two five-set matches along the way. He dropped the first two sets of his fourth-round match against Tommy Haas before coming back, then trailed against Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals before coming through in five sets.

"I feel I've definitely become more a man now, the last few years, where I'm not scared of five-setters anymore," Federer said. "I can handle the pressure."

He said he's not too concerned about regaining the No. 1 ranking he lost to Rafael Nadal in August. No, Federer's priority is winning more Grand Slam titles. The first chance to get No. 15 and surpass Pete Sampras comes at Wimbledon, which begins June 22.

Federer's run of five consecutive Wimbledon titles ended with a five-set loss to Nadal in last year's final.

The 27-year-old Swiss star considers himself the man to beat this time.

"I do think I'm the favorite, actually, with all the success I've had," Federer said.

Nadal's 31-match French Open winning streak ended with a loss to Soderling in the fourth round. Five days later, Nadal pulled out of this week's grass-court tournament at Queen's Club, citing knee problems.

Referring to Wimbledon, Nadal said: "I hope I can be ready to compete by then."

Federer expects to see his nemesis at the All England Club.

"It seems like it's not 100 percent serious, his knee injury. I only wish him the best and I hope it's not true that he will miss Wimbledon. I think it's a lot of speculation at the moment," Federer said. "He wasn't taping his knees here in Paris. He seemed fine, (from) what I saw, anyway. I've played him so many times, I can tell when he's in pain and when he's not."

Federer said his back feels OK _ he took a six-week break this year because it was bothering him _ but he also said he was considering withdrawing from the grass-court tournament in Halle, Germany, that began Monday.

As for his game, Federer figures he can keep improving, particularly on grass and hard courts, "when I can go for my shots more."

He already has won five championships at Wimbledon, five at the U.S. Open and three at the Australian Open. Now _ after having lost to Nadal in the three previous French Open finals _ Federer looks forward to being the defending champion at Roland Garros for the first time.

"I'm sure I'm going to enjoy Paris even more in the future," he said, "because the pressure is off."