- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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Roger Federer has always been a truth-teller. Sometimes his press conference responses seem to border on arrogance. But, as they say, it's not bragging if it's true.
On Friday, in his first media appearance at Roland Garros, Federer was asked how hard it was for Rafael Nadal to come back after sustaining a knee injury.
"I don't know," Federer said, chillingly matter of fact. "I have never been out for seven months."
He's not lying. This is Federer's 54th consecutive Grand Slam event, and that's by far the most among active players, tied with Stefan Edberg for second all time. Wayne Ferreira is first with 56.
On the first day of the 2013 French Open, Federer defeated 21-year-old qualifier Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 6-2, 6-2, 6-3. It was Busta's Grand Slam debut.
"I started all three sets well," Federer said. "And was able to get into the lead, and playing from the lead against a player like him is always easier. I put a lot of emphasis on that. Other than that, just focusing on playing my game and not making too many unforced errors but still playing aggressive."
Earlier this year, Busta won seven straight Futures titles, including five on clay. Then, earlier this month, he stunned Julien Benneteau, David Goffin and Fabio Fognini to reach the semifinals at the Portugal Open in Oeiras before losing to Stanislas Wawrinka.
Unlike Ferreira, Federer has reached 35 consecutive quarterfinals and won 17 major titles. By contrast, golf has seen 17 different champions in the past 18 majors. Elite men's tennis has been extraordinarily stable; the big three have won 30 of the past 32 majors, with Juan Martin del Potro (2009 U.S. Open) the only interloper.
Federer, who is approaching 32nd birthday, has been relatively quiet of late. After winning at Wimbledon last year, he took the hard-court title at Cincinnati in August -- and hasn't won a title since. His only victory against a top-10 player this year came against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Australian Open.
But he started his French Open campaign with relative ease, winning in a swift 80 minutes.
"I felt it was a good match for me," Federer said. "I knew it could be tricky if I didn't sustain a certain level of play and aggressiveness and get caught up in long rallies. Overall, I thought I did well on the serve, on the return and general movement as well. Clearly, I'm very pleased."
That said, there is history to be made for Federer in Paris.
If he reaches the semifinals at this French Open, he will become the winningest player ever at Roland Garros. Federer, even with only one title (2009), has accumulated 54 victories. Guillermo Vilas and Nicola Pietrangeli are tied for first with 58 wins, followed by Budge Patty (55). Seven-time winner Rafael Nadal (52) would take the lead if he wins the title in Paris and Federer loses before the semifinals.
The draw suggests that might not happen.
Before the tournament, Federer claimed not to know how close he was to setting the record for appearances in consecutive majors.
"I don't know what the record is, number one, so I don't know what the number is. But for me there was not even a question ever. I was not even really close to ever missing one, to be honest. I never pulled out of any live match. I have only pulled out of two tournaments once I started a tournament in my career.
"So for me it's just something I just kept on doing. Now here we are. It's incredible. I never thought I was going to play that many, have that many opportunities to do well at the Slams. It shows maybe great stamina and injury-free career in a way. There is no shortcuts in best-of-five set matches, and that's where I think I was always up for the challenge, which I'm very happy that I was able to do that for so long so far."
Because of the rankings, Federer finds himself in a relatively decent position. Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 seed, is in the top half of the men's draw, along with No. 3 Nadal. With a record seven titles at Roland Garros, Nadal is the favorite in Paris -- because, according to Federer, he is so consistent.
"I think we get no surprises by Rafa on clay," Federer said. "It's always at the highest of levels. You know he's not going to give you a match because he plays with a lot of margin, a lot of topspin, a lot of pace, stands far behind the baseline, and is very focused.
"Overall, you know what you're going to get, so you have to play a really good match against him to have a chance. And then you still might lose. So it's amazing for how long he's done it and for how consistent he's done it. I think the results show again this year how good he's playing. It's nice to see him so strong after his comeback."