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‘Scared’ a year ago, Federer back at Wimbledon, eyeing No. 8

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LONDON (AP) Write off Roger Federer at your own peril.

The guy’s been considered done by some folks at various times over the years, whether because of age or a bad back or a bum knee or a – gasp! – 4+-season drought without a Grand Slam title.

And yet here he is, about to turn 36 next month, about to tie a record by playing in his 70th major tournament and, lo and behold, back to his old status as a popular pick to take home the title when Wimbledon begins on Monday.

He is seeking an unprecedented eighth men’s championship at the All England Club.

“A player like Roger, as long as he’s playing, you know, he’s going to have a chance to win a Grand Slam. The day he will stop playing, that’s when he will have no chance to win,” said Stan Wawrinka, a three-time major champion who has played much of his career in his Swiss countryman’s considerable shadow.

“We all know as players, we all see on the court, we all see when we practice against him,” said Wawrinka, who is friends with Federer and has teamed with him to win a Davis Cup title and an Olympic gold in doubles.

“For sure, he had some years (that were) a little bit down – with some injury, with some tough results for him. That’s part of a long career.”

The lasting image of Federer at Wimbledon a year ago was of him face-down on the Centre Court turf during the fifth set of a semifinal loss, betrayed by a surgically repaired left knee.

Also tough to forget: The consecutive double-faults in the last game of the fourth set.

He seemed more vulnerable than the tennis world had seen him in more than a decade.

“The fall just really scared me,” Federer said Saturday, fingers clasped as he leaned forward.

Afterward, he recalled, he consulted with several doctors. Federer figured he would need a month off, maybe two. He was told that at least four months off was the proper way to heal. That meant no Olympics, no U.S. Open, no matches at all for the rest of 2016.

All he’s done since coming back this year is go 24-2 with four titles, including a record-extending 18th at a Grand Slam tournament by erasing a fifth-set deficit to beat Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final in January.

That was Federer’s first major championship since Wimbledon in 2012, when he was a mere 30 years old.

Some more time off would come during this season: Federer skipped the clay-court circuit, including the French Open, despite being healthy.

“I was ready to play in Paris,” he said. “I just didn’t feel ready to go yet.”

Federer wanted, he explained, to give himself the best chance to succeed on his best surfaces, grass and hard courts.

“We all felt the same way, that it’s better to save myself and give it all I have for the rest of the season – not just the grass-court season, but looking beyond that, too, all the way to the American summer, staying on a `fast-court tennis’ sort of mindset,” he said.

Leaning back in his chair with arms crossed, he said of missing the French Open: “I kind of never regretted it, even though it hurt.”

He tuned up for Wimbledon by winning a grass-court tournament in Halle, Germany. In the final, he walloped one of the game’s up-and-coming talents – Alexander Zverev, someone 15 years his junior – as if to prove that the kids can wait their turn.

Tennis’ old guard is still in charge of the sport.

Federer, 31-year-old Nadal, and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, both 30, are the top four seeds at Wimbledon. They’ve combined to win the past 14 titles at the All England Club.

“It’s very even, when we put it all out on the line,” Federer said about the so-called Big 4.

This is Federer’s 19th appearance at Wimbledon, two shy of Jimmy Connors’ record in the Open era. Federer enters with 84 match wins, equal with Connors for the most.

There are concessions to time, Federer acknowledges.

He tried to get through practice Saturday as quickly as possible – “short and sweet, just to get it done” – and then planned to take Sunday off before the grind begins.

The philosophy is the same during matches. An attacking style to shorten points, the occasional serve-and-volley, and the more powerful backhand he displayed in Australia against Nadal all can help save energy.

“I don’t want to be at the mercy of my opponent. I want to take charge, play aggressive myself,” Federer said. “So for that, I need to be fast on my feet and quick in my mind. I just need enough rest so I can play enough inspired tennis.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Wozniacki beats Pavlyuchenkova for Pan Pacific title

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TOKYO — Caroline Wozniacki overwhelmed Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-0, 7-5 to retain her Pan Pacific Open title on Sunday.

The victory gives Wozniacki, also champion in Tokyo in 2010, her first title of the year. The Dane had lost all six of her previous finals in 2017.

“This was my seventh final of the year – it gets harder to get that last win,” said world No. 6 Wozniacki, who has now won at least one title every year since 2008. “I’ve been putting myself in a position to win all year. It was really important for me to stay focused and positive.”

Wozniacki had crushed world No.1 Garbine Muguruza 6-2, 6-0 in the semifinals and a similar score looked on the cards here Sunday.

“The court suits my game. She plays powerfully so it was important for me to make her move around early on. In the first set everything was going my way. In the second set she served better, so it was tricky for me to break.”

The first set lasted only 20 minutes as Pavlyuchenkova struggled to get a foothold.

“I was really disappointed in the first three games,” said the Russian. “I felt I was a bit unlucky and really believe if I had turned those points round and won the games, it may have been a different match. I was a little down on myself and missed more than I should.”

The Russian fought harder in a second set that went with serve until the 12th and final game.

Yet she failed to earn a break point in the match and appeared outclassed in her first Premier-level final since Moscow in 2015. Semifinal opponent Angelique Kerber was the only seed she faced this week before third-seeded Wozniacki.

“It’s disappointing to lose no matter which round it is, even more disappointing in the final,” said Pavlyuchenkova, who needed three sets to win all four of her matches en route to the final.

“I felt a little flat due to the previous matches. I didn’t have so much energy left.”

Federer beats Kyrgios as Europe wins first Laver Cup

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PRAGUE — Roger Federer rallied to beat Nick Kyrgios 4-6, 7-6 (6), 11-9 Sunday and clinch the new Laver Cup tournament for Europe on Sunday.

The three-day competition at Prague’s O2 Arena pitted a team of the best six European players against the top six from the rest of the world.

Seen by some as a tennis version of the Ryder Cup in golf, the inaugural Laver Cup was played on an unusual black hard court.

Rafael Nadal, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych also formed the European team, while Sam Querrey, John Isner, Jack Sock, Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe played for the world.

The tournament is to honor Rod Laver, an 11-time major champion who won two calendar-year Grand Slams.

Chicago will host it in 2018.