WIMBLEDON, England (AP) – Roger Federer is so composed on a tennis court these days that it’s tough to believe he used to be a tantrum-tossing teenager.

If a point didn’t go his way, he was liable to smash a racket. If he lost a match, tears would flow.

As his game matured, so did he, and the 23-year-old player doesn’t let setbacks affect him that way anymore. Then again, Federer doesn’t lose all that much anymore, and Monday he’ll begin his bid to become the third man since the 1930s to win three consecutive Wimbledon titles.

“I have to say, I can cope with losses much easier than I used to. I used to cry very much and be very disappointed,” he said Sunday.

“But with all the success I’ve had over the last few years now, it’s really become no problem for me to handle it, and actually understand why I’ve lost, and sort of explain it to myself and then move on.”

As the defending men’s champion, Federer plays in the fortnight’s first Centre Court match, against Paul-Henri Mathieu of France.

Other men in action today include Australian Open champion Marat Safin, 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt, and 2003 runner-up Mark Philippoussis.

Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport – the 1999 winner – No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, and Kim Clijsters are among the women playing.

Federer will try to appreciate the moment when he first steps out on court.

“I’ll definitely take a look around and say, Wow. This is where I lived some great moments already,”‘ said Federer, whose 29-match winning streak on grass is the second-longest in the Open era. “Haven’t hit a ball here since match point last year.”

That was against Andy Roddick, the first time since Jimmy Connors beat John McEnroe in 1982 that the two top-seeded men played for the championship at the All England Club. While Roddick’s had an uneven year, his record-setting serve and big forehand suit him well on grass, and he’s 26-2 on the surface since 2003.

The only defeats? To Federer at Wimbledon, naturally.

“That matchup is a long way’s away. I’ve learned it’s not every day you play your first Wimbledon final. I hope I get back and get the opportunity to get another one,” Roddick said en route to winning last week’s Queen’s Club tuneup for the third year in a row. “Once you’ve experienced something, it takes away the fear of the unknown, which is always there. I would definitely look forward to doing it again.”

Federer called Roddick “the biggest threat of all.” Asked to name his main rivals, Federer also mentioned Hewitt and four-time semifinalist Tim Henman, who again bears the weight of a nation hoping for a British men’s champion. The last was Fred Perry in 1936, capping a run of three straight Wimbledon titles.

Since then, only Bjorn Borg (1976-80) and Pete Sampras (1993-95, 1997-00) have turned the trio trick. It was Federer who ended Sampras’ reign in 2001, snapping Pistol Pete’s 31-match Wimbledon winning streak in a fourth-round upset.

Federer took a step back the following year, losing in the first round to Mario Ancic, but since then has won 14 matches in a row at the All England Club. The Swiss star is beginning to build the sort of aura Sampras had around these parts.

“If he plays well, there’s no way he’s going to lose,” said McEnroe, who won Wimbledon three times. “I mean, when I saw him win the first one, I thought he’d win at least five. There’s no reason for me think otherwise at the moment.”

After last year’s three Grand Slam titles, Federer has been just a tad less invincible on the sport’s top stages.

He’s 51-3 with a tour-high seven titles in 2005 to stretch his stay at No. 1 to more than 70 weeks. But two of the defeats came at the majors, against Safin at the Australian Open and Rafael Nadal at the French Open two weeks ago.

Federer says it’s important to bounce back immediately when those rare losses come, and he responded to his disappointment in Paris by winning a grass tuneup in Halle, Germany, before coming to England.

With all of his success – his Open era-record streak of winning his last 20 finals might be the most impressive accomplishment – Federer knows he can’t be complacent.

“You can’t just come and just play like last year. This doesn’t work,” Federer said. “I tried this in 2002, when I came after I beat Sampras here. I said, Play like when you played against Sampras.’ Then I lose in straight sets.”

Federer went all of last season without a coach, then in December brought aboard Tony Roche, the 1966 French Open champion and 1968 Wimbledon runner-up who coached Ivan Lendl and Patrick Rafter.

“He feels he can keep improving,” Roche said after a practice session with Federer on Sunday. “I don’t think that just because you’ve reached No. 1 means that you’ve reached your potential. So he’s still looking to work on things and to get better.”

Back in his junior days, Federer needed to work on keeping an even keel.

Not any longer.

A year ago, Lynette Federer watched with pride as her son dug in when trailing Roddick in their Wimbledon final.

“Years ago, he would have thrown the racket or shouted and wasted energy,” she said then. “Today, he’s learned to get his emotions under control.”

AP-ES-06-19-05 1501EDT


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