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He loves having the No. 1 record

February 27, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Roger Federer's rewrite of the tennis record book continues.

Federer has held the No. 1 ranking on the ATP tour for a record 161 straight weeks, passing Jimmy Connors' mark of 160.

Rankings are released on Mondays by the tour, and Federer celebrated by winning his opening match in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in three sets against Kristian Pless -- his 37th straight match victory. And that has him closing in on another record, Guillermo Vilas' 46 consecutive victories, set in 1977. Federer could move past Vilas at the Pacific Life Open, which starts next week at Indian Wells.

But Monday's conference call was all about breaking the record, a new Swiss stamp honoring him and, of course, his new buddy and fellow Gillette pitchman, Tiger Woods.

Question: When did you first meet Connors?

Answer: "Quite an ironic story with Jimmy Connors. Not only did I beat Andy Roddick where I saved match points in Shanghai -- Jimmy actually coaching him right there -- and that guaranteed me to break the record today.

"But in Basel, my hometown tournament, where I used to be a ball boy, in between being a ball boy and playing, I got an award for best junior in Basel, under 14. Jimmy Connors and Mansour Bahrami were playing an exhibition match and gave me an award, which was a watch back then. I walked on the court, had a picture taken with both of them and then walked off again. I was so nervous. Whoever would have thought I would have broken the record?"

Q: What does it say about Connors' game that he held the record for nearly 30 years?

A: "That was one of his records. But I think the biggest record of all is winning 109 titles, playing so long. He played till he was 40 years old. That is an incredible effort."

Q: What do you think of the changes the ATP is experimenting with in 2007, including a round-robin system at selected tournaments?

A: "I thought it makes sense, the tournament gets to see the stars twice.... Then the more I thought about it, the more I saw of it, I was not so for it because I'm the classic guy who always thinks the past was great. The knockout system in tennis is fantastic. You have one bad day, you're out. You have no chance of coming back."

Q: Tiger versus Roger. Who is more dominant in his sport?

A: "At the Gillette sponsorship [announcement], they asked me about the difference, what do you think about who's more dominant? I said, 'Well, he's got it easier, he's playing on grass all the time, whereas I have to go to different surfaces.' He was like, 'Oh, there you go.' It was quite funny. It's fun to compare with the other greatest athletes. I like the debate going on.

"What he's achieved is incredible. He's been able to win all four majors, stay at the top so long. The impact he's had on golf is incredible. He's so charismatic and everything."

Q: Does anything about Woods surprise you?

A: "Yeah, I've gotten very surprised, to be honest. I thought he was very calm and everything. But he's the opposite. I don't know what to say. I always have to laugh when I speak about how Tiger is away from golf. Even on the golf course, he's kind of joking around in the final round. That's why I'm so impressed with Tiger and I'm such a big fan of him."

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