Champion claims to be in the best shape ever

As the six-times winner prepares to chase another grand slam, he admits there is more to life than tennis

He had just lost on grass for only the second time in more than seven years. Three weeks ago his record-breaking run of 23 successive appearances in Grand Slam semi-finals ended when he was beaten in the French Open quarter-finals. He has not won a tournament for nearly five months. Rafael Nadal has replaced him as world No 1, leaving him just short of Pete Sampras' record of 286 weeks at the top of the world rankings.

Is Roger Federer feeling the pace after so long at the top? Is he finally suffering the aches and pains of mere mortals?

Wimbledon's defending champion has news for those who might be looking for chinks in his armour. "I think I actually feel better today than I used to," Federer said. "When I was young I had so much muscle pain, like you can't believe. Today, I feel better because I stretch much more. I've had a masseur and a physio for the last five or six years now, so you can do a lot of prevention work. At the beginning I would come out of five-setters feeling terrible. Everything was hurting and aching. Sometimes I still get it after certain matches, but normally I'm OK."

Does he at least have to work harder than ever to stay in the shape that has seen him compete in the last 42 Grand Slam tournaments, the longest current sequence of any player? "No, the same. I've always worked extremely hard in my off seasons. Then I pace myself at tournaments. Sometimes it might look like I don't work very hard – I have the wrong image, I think – but I do work extremely hard."

Although Federer has a record 16 Grand Slam titles to his name, there is no sign of any lessening of his appetite for success. He will be 29 in August, married Mirka, his long-term girlfriend, last year, is the proud father of 11-month-old twin daughters and probably has enough money to open his own Swiss bank, but thoughts of retirement have not entered his head. The 2012 Olympics, when the tennis tournament will be staged at Wimbledon, is one major goal – he has yet to win an Olympic gold medal in singles – but he plans to compete for a good while beyond that.

When Federer does put his rackets away for the last time the decision is almost certain to be definitive. "I'm not a big fan of comebacks in the first place, so I hope that I never have to come back," he said. "Once I retire I hope I will have left absolutely everything out on the court. That's why I want to play as long as possible. If it's not possible for me to do it anymore I'll do something else. There's much more out there than just tennis."

For the moment Federer is happy to juggle his sporting and family lives. "I love being a father," he said. "I think I was more worried about it than I should have been. I was nervous. It was like when I went to get my driving licence. I always thought I was going to be a terrible driver. I was scared, yet today I love driving. It's the same thing with being a father. Obviously Mirka is a huge part of me being relaxed, because I see that she's a great mum and takes care of the twins in an incredible way."

Has being a father led him to find out things about himself that he did not know before? "You can definitely love your kids more than anything in the world. At the beginning it's strange. All of a sudden you give, in my case, two people new names and you're supposed to love them endlessly. But in the beginning you don't know them, so it's kind of strange in the first week or so. Then you realise, you know what, they are the best thing in the world."

Federer cried when his daughters were born, when he married last spring, when he visited an Ethiopian school funded by his foundation, when he lost to Nadal in the Australian Open final last year. "I remember my parents used to cry very quickly, so I guess it's in the family a little bit," he said.

He sees his public shows of emotion as a positive thing. "Let's say that maybe I take people on a ride with me," he said. "I don't do it on my own. Honestly, I would rather do it this way than have to do it all by myself, because I can look back on these moments. Many of them are documented in film or pictures. I think I almost consider myself fortunate that I've been able to have these feelings come out in the public eye.

"It's almost something I can't control. Maybe I could control it more, hide it more in a towel, but sometimes you can't. When you're on the podium there isn't a towel to cry into. If you lose and there's a towel there next to the trophy, that maybe doesn't look so good for the photographers. So I feel really good about it."

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When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
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He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
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I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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