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Gold in Beijing could help save Federer's season

Aug. 07, 2008, 9:36 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) Roger Federer is thinking more about the number eight than the No. 1 ranking he will lose after the Olympics.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion's birthday coincides with Friday's opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics, which are being staged on one of the luckiest days in the Chinese calendar.

His more than four-year reign at No. 1 will end Aug. 18, regardless of how he fares in Beijing. Rafael Nadal earned enough points to overhaul the Swiss star.

The number eight has long been considered a good omen in China, where people pay a premium to have it included in their telephone numbers and license plates. With the official start of the 2008 Olympics on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year, Federer is hoping some luck will rub off on him.

He has not won an Olympic medal in two previous trips, and for the first time since 2003 he has reached August without at least one major title for the season. He was upset in the Australian Open semifinals after an illness interrupted preparation, and he lost the final at the French Open and Wimbledon to Nadal to end his streak of five titles at the All England Club.

"People expect more from me after my great last five years. But I hope I can still save this season with either this or the U.S. Open," Federer said at news conference Thursday. "Right now, the focus is on the Olympic Games ... not the rankings.

"Winning Wimbledon, I was only a few points from that. That hurt, but I'm over that and looking forward now. Anything that comes now - the Olympic Games or the U.S. Open would help my confidence a lot."

Federer spoke to the media for the first time since it was confirmed he would lose the top spot he has held since February 2004.

"Rafa has done very well in the last year or so to become the No. 1 in the world, but that's not my focus right now," Federer said. "Before the U.S. Open, maybe there will be more talk. But we're a few days ahead of the Olympic Games, where I hope I can do well."

Besides, he still feels like a deserving No. 1.

"Until the rankings change on the computer, I do, yeah," he said.

There's no doubt Federer still has the pulling power of a No. 1 player. The news conference was set up for 168 reporters but crowded with more than 400, including 42 TV cameras.

Federer, who plays Russia's Dmitry Tursunov in the first round, said winning an Olympic gold medal would be among his greatest achievements. To that end, he's not living in the athletes' village.

"I go down once in a while to see the other Swiss athletes and get the Olympic feel. I was there the other day and it's not possible really. There's so many athletes who want pictures - I don't mind it, but every day for I don't know how long, it's not the ideal preparation to try and win the gold medal," he said. "I went through it in Sydney and Athens. I had those great experiences and I know what the Olympic Games are all about.

"Now I can get away from it all and really prepare the perfect way, that's what I'm trying to do."

Federer is staying at a hotel instead of the village. But he says that wherever an athlete stays, the intent is the same.

"Some of us are millionaires, some or not," he said. "I don't think it really matters. We're all chasing the same thing - an Olympic gold and not money."

Federer lost the semifinals and bronze-medal matches at the 2000 Olympics and finished fourth. He did, however, meet and start dating girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec, so he had something pleasant to remember from Sydney. He carried the Swiss flag into the opening ceremony in Athens, where he was upset in the second round.

On Friday, he again will carry the flag into China's National Stadium, which will be at full capacity with 91,000 spectators in an event with a broadcast audience of billions.

"It's one of my dreams to do very well in the Olympic Games," he said. "Carrying the flag is one of those moments you only dream about. Walking into the stadium with the Swiss flag. The stadium, the biggest I've ever been in. I enjoyed it a lot."

He expects Beijing to be even more memorable, falling on his 27th birthday.

"This will probably be my most unique - unless I have a baby on my birthday, but that's not planned yet," he said. "It'll be very special. I'm thrilled it's on the opening ceremony, that I get to carry the flag for Switzerland. The whole combination is really, really nice."

And his birthday wish, apart from the day off practice and a cake?

"I hope," he said, "I don't stumble when I walk into the stadium."

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