LONDON, July 26 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s Roger Federer has become so popular among both competitors and media that he finds it difficult to walk around the athletes village at the Olympic park, and has journalists gushing over him at press conferences.
The world number one and 17-time grand slam winner has stayed at the athletes village at two of the three Olympics he has attended, but at his fourth in London he will be staying nearer the tennis venue in Wimbledon.
While this is partly down to convenience - the Olympic park is around an hour’s drive from Wimbledon - the 30-year-old admitted his fame had also been a consideration.
“I have done the village before so it is not like I feel I have to do the village so badly. I would love to, but of course I have also become very famous over the last eight years or so, so times have also changed and when I do move around in the village things are not as simple as they were,” he told the packed 700-capacity main press room at the Olympic media centre.
While waiting for the number one seed to arrive, many journalists were using their phones and iPads to take pictures of the seemingly unnecessary “Roger Federer” name placard on the table where he was to sit. As he arrived, people strained over each other to get a picture of him entering the room.
In contrast, only around 50 people turned out to see second seed Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, who won a bronze at the Beijing Games and was knocked off the world number one spot by Federer this month, when he held a press conference an hour earlier along with some of his countrymen.
If seeming slightly bemused by his popularity among the world’s media, Federer remained light hearted by his reception.
In response to one journalist, who began by saying “As a journalist and as a fan, I know that you will win this Olympic gold” before asking Federer if he would retire if he achieved that feat, he responded: “I don’t know, are you my fan or not? If you don’t want me to stop, I wont.”
While when another member of the media who confessed to being a big fan “like so many other journalists” asked who was the biggest star of the games, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps or Roger Federer he responded “Well, not me”.
Federer, who won gold in the doubles at Beijing with Stanislas Wawrinka, said singles gold was far from a certainty, partly down to the fact that all but the final match will be best of three sets rather than the grand slam best five.
“That puts the margins more closer to each other,” said Federer, who would have been out in the third round of Wimbledon under such rules, having gone two sets down to France’s Julien Benneteau - his potential second round opponent at the Olympics.
“It just goes to show a bad five minutes or a bad couple of points can cost you the tournament, I am aware of that but I do believe winning Wimbledon three weeks ago is going to help me with my confidence,” said Federer, who faces Colombia’s Alejandro Falla in the first round.
Away from chasing the gold, Federer, who has become a father for the first time since the last Olympics, also has the important task of picking out a present or two for his twin daughters, who have just turned three.
“I will try to have a look and get some souvenirs,” said Federer, who met his wife Mirka at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. “A good dad should bring back some souvenirs from time to time.” (Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Ossian Shine)