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Facing expectations: Confronting pressure allows Federer to move past it

WIMBLEDON, England - So many milestones and never-been-done-befores arise seemingly every time Roger Federer steps on court. The 2009 Wimbledon final against Andy Roddick was no different, and not merely because they played a 16-14 fifth set and 77 games total, records for any Grand Slam championship match.

Federer's victory gave him 15 Grand Slam titles, one more than the career mark he shared with Pete Sampras. It came in Federer's seventh consecutive title match at the All England Club and 20th major final, two more records. It gave Federer six Wimbledon championships, one shy of the record. It returned Federer to No. 1 in the rankings.

It's enough to make a guy's head spin - even Federer's.

"It can freak you out," Federer said Monday, reclining on a leather couch at the All England Club during a brief interview with The Associated Press.

"It's a test, and that's why I like to go over these records: 'What's on the line? OK. No problem. I've heard them now.' You read them quickly for a few minutes, and then you know," he said.

So here, then, is what Federer does: He finds out about the various important matters - history-making matters - at stake heading into a particular match. He does this homework a day or so ahead of time, absorbs it all, then does his best to put it out of his mind when the ball is in play.

"You think about it for the rest of the day. But then the shock's gone, at least," Federer explained. "And then, maybe the next day, when the match comes around, you're all right, focusing again on forehands and backhands and serves."

No one ever has managed that last part better at as many major tournaments.

That he can repeatedly summon the stamina - he and Roddick played for 4 hours, 16 minutes - and strokes to keep winning, day after day, tournament after tournament, is all the more impressive when you consider the expectations that come with being Roger Federer.

And he knows about those expectations, and his achievements, as well as anyone.

"It's important to face it, not say, 'Ooh, I don't want to hear about it,' because it's there. It's reality," Federer said. "And I always say, 'You've got to be able to handle it."'

He'll make passing references to his various bona fides, pointing out before Sunday's match, for example, that it would represent his sixth consecutive Grand Slam final. Or noting Monday that he's participated in 16 of the past 17 Grand Slam finals.

To some that might seem arrogant. But it isn't if you can back it up.

Federer keeps doing that, at a remarkable rate: Sampras' 14 majors were won over a span of 12 years; Federer's 15 have come in a six-year span.

Against Roddick, Federer smacked a career-high 50 aces, but he had the toughest time trying to break the American's vaunted serve. Simply couldn't do it. Federer was able to win the second and third sets thanks to tiebreakers, but Wimbledon - unlike the U.S. Open - doesn't use tiebreakers in fifth sets. So heading into that final set Sunday, Federer knew that he had to break Roddick to win.

"It played on my mind," Federer said. "Going into the fifth, I knew, 'Well, this is not where a tiebreak is going to save me here, Rog.' I knew I needed to break him eventually. ... And you're, like, 'How am I ever going to get a break point? He's serving massive.' He really made it difficult for me."

Roddick held serve in 37 consecutive games. Only in the 38th, and last, of Roddick's service games did Federer break him.

"He was having trouble picking up my serve today for the first time ever," 2003 U.S. Open champion Roddick said Sunday after falling to 2-19 against Federer. "You didn't even get a sense that he was even really frustrated by it. ... He gets a lot of credit for a lot of things, but not a lot of the time is how many matches he kind of digs deep and toughs out."

Federer's assessment a day later was similar.

"I had that will to win more than ever," the champion said. "And that's what I think got me through in the end."

He turns 28 next month - "young in tennis terms," is the way Federer put it. It's three years younger than Sampras was when he won his last major title in what turned out to be his last match as a professional, a victory over Andre Agassi in the 2002 U.S. Open final.

Federer long ago said he wanted to keep playing at least until the 2012 London Olympics, which will hold tennis competition at the All England Club. Now there's this added motivation to stick around the game he loves: His wife, Mirka, is pregnant, and they want their child to see Dad play on tennis' grandest stages.

As Federer rose to leave Monday, he chatted about looking forward to fatherhood.

And he mentioned that his head's been spinning about far more important matters than Grand Slam titles and other things written down in tennis' record book.

Yes, Roger Federer has been consulting a baby-name book.

"You know, you look up a letter. Like, 'P,' for example," Federer said, his eyes wide. "And, wow, there are so many names."