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Federer enjoys duties of defending champion

Last year's victory puts him at ease in an event once dominated by his top rival, Rafael Nadal.

PARIS - Plenty of tennis tournaments, big and small, ask Roger Federer to participate in their draw ceremonies - show up, shake some hands, pose for a few photos, lend prestige. He has a ready response.

"I always say no," the 16-time major champion explained, "just because I don't want to be a part of it."

At this year's French Open, Federer did not have a choice in the matter. The French Open, you see, always invites the previous year's male and female champions to help determine the brackets by reaching into the tournament's silver trophies, randomly selecting numbers assigned to players. Finally, Federer was eligible.

So there he was Friday morning at the French tennis federation's museum on the Roland Garros grounds, wearing a dark blazer, crisp collared shirt, and jeans. Smiling for the cameras. Pulling numbers out of a trophy. Performing, at long last, the duties of the French Open's defending champion.

Arriving on site this year "felt different because I have so many great memories from this court now, whereas in the past, I mean, I played good matches, but I couldn't come back and think, 'This is where I've had my most emotional wins in my career.' " Federer said.

Only one man has managed to beat Federer at Roland Garros during the last five years: his chief rival, Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has won the French Open four times, and each journey to the title required a victory against Federer - in the 2005 semifinals, and the 2006-08 finals. A year ago, though, Nadal was upset in the fourth round, dropping his career mark at Roland Garros to 31-1.

Nadal leads the head-to-head series against Federer 14-7. His edge is 10-2 on clay, including a win over Federer in the final of last week's Madrid Masters.

Still, Federer insists he has "no complex whatsoever" about facing Nadal, who hasn't lost a match on clay to anyone this season.

Because Federer is seeded No. 1, and Nadal is No. 2, they could meet only in the June 6 final, an appointment most figure the pair will keep.

While Nadal won all three clay-court tournaments he entered this year, Federer is only 6-3 on the surface, including an opening loss at the Rome Masters.

But Federer is as good as it gets at Grand Slams, reaching 18 of the past 19 finals and a record 23 consecutive semifinals at tennis' major championships.