The pressure is off Roger Federer this year as he begins his clay court season at the Rome Masters. In previous seasons the talk always revolved around whether he could ever win Roland Garros, the only major title to elude him. But his victory over Robin Soderling in last year’s final got that monkey off his back and allowed him to begin his 2010 bid for the title in a more relaxed frame of mind.

"Questions are already very different," he said in Rome, where he will begin against Marcos Baghdatis or Ernests Gulbis. "It doesn't start off with, 'Oh, are you going to win the French Open this year?' So it's just a bit more relaxing. I also got a lot of confidence from winning the French Open last year. You feel like if you can do it once you can do it twice."

Not that he considers himself the favorite. That position, he says, goes to his arch rival Rafael Nadal, who last year arrived in Paris exhausted after winning three titles and reaching the final of a fourth event. Knee problems also hindered his campaign and led to him missing the entire grass court season. This year, to better prepare, the Spaniard withdrew from last week’s Barcelona Open.

"I would love to say I'm the big favorite but I don't think it's quite right, even though I won the French Open last year," said Federer. "He's been on an absolute tear (on clay) for the last five years. He's hardly lost any matches. You can almost count them on one hand. And he's only lost one match at the French Open, so I would think he's still the favorite," Federer said.



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