Roger Federer listens to a question during a news conference at the BNP Paribas… (Darron Cummings / Associated…)
The aggressive athlete. The left-hander. The tactician.
That's how Roger Federer describes the other three best men's tennis players in the world.
Federer says Novak Djokovic, currently ranked No. 1 and winner of four of the last five majors, is the most athletic of his most avid competitors and the most aggressive.
Rafael Nadal, ranked second in the world, is the left-hander with troublesome spin and relentless focus, according to Federer.
Andy Murray, ranked No. 4, and still looking for a major title, impresses Federer with his defensive skills and thoughtful tennis.
It's possible the third-seeded Federer would have to beat top-seeded Djokovic and then either second-seeded Nadal or fourth-seeded Murray to win his fourth BNP Paribas title at Indian Wells. The men begin play Thursday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and the top 32 seeded players have byes into the second round.
Federer's three titles here came all in a row in 2004, 2005 and 2006. He hasn't been past the semifinals since, and last year he lost to tournament winner Djokovic in the semifinals in three sets.
That loss to Djokovic wasn't as emotional as the semifinal defeat the Serb gave Federer at the 2011 U.S. Open in a match where Federer held two match points in the fifth set and had won the first two sets.
After that loss, Federer had sounded almost bitter when he said of one of Djokovic's shots that saved a match point, "He just gets the lucky shot at the end and off you go."
Federer finished off 2011 on a 17-match winning streak and with a title at the season-ending ATP Championships. He is 16-2 so far this year and has won two tournaments, just not the Australian Open, the major everyone remembers.
Federer, 30, has won a record 16 Grand Slam tournaments and he said he remembers his feelings upon winning each.
Not one is more or less special, he said. "You can never re-create the feeling you get after winning the first," Federer said. That was at Wimbledon in 2003.
"I can never re-create those emotions of winning the first French Open," he said. "I can never redo winning No. 15, beating Andy Roddick 16-14 in the fifth at Wimbledon. Those things are in the memory vault and will always be there for me to pull out."
Last year was the first season since 2002 that Federer didn't take at least one of the four major titles, but Federer noted that he also remembered vividly when 31-year-old Pete Sampras, two years past his 13th major, unexpectedly and emotionally won his 14th at the 2002 U.S. Open.
"I remember Pete playing in five night sessions, coming from behind a lot," Federer said. "I was so happy for him. I wasn't happy seeing him losing in the second rounds of smaller tournaments. So it was quite emotional to see Pete win that Open."
As Federer spoke, it was possible to think the Swiss native was thinking of a moment when he might win one last major tournament.
It is not time for those endings yet, though, Federer said.
He is into his 14th year on the ATP Tour and he has been infrequently interrupted by injuries, though a sore back did cause him to withdraw from the final in Dubai this year.
"It is always in my mind still that I can crush anybody," Federer said. "That's not an issue. But I think that is the same for most athletes. If you don't believe you can win tournaments anymore, then you can't do it."