- Sandra Harwitt
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SHANGHAI -- If someone was looking to build a bionic tennis player, there's no doubt that Roger Federer would provide the perfect model.
At 31, the Swiss star hasn't slowed down one iota. While his focus has expanded to include wife, Mirka, and twin daughters, Charlene and Myla -- born three summers ago -- his commitment to playing high-level tennis has not diminished. Somehow, against all odds, he's managed to keep all his priorities together.
"So far I think I've done so well," Federer said at the Shanghai Rolex Masters this week. "I'm sitting here at world No. 1. It's amazing after all that's happened to me in the last three years, in the last 15 years since I made my first ATP points. It's been a great journey, and I hope I can continue it for, hopefully, many more years."
It's rare that a player becomes a legend in his own time.
Federer has won a record 17 Grand Slam titles, the last coming at Wimbledon this past summer, more than two years since winning his last at the 2010 Australian Open. He returned to the world No. 1 ranking for the first time in just more than two years (May 2010) after winning Wimbledon and has held the position for a record nonconsecutive 299 weeks.
Federer performs at a level that would leave some to suggest he's found his own secret, age-defying formula. Maybe it's the Swiss chocolates he promotes. Logically, however, it's not that Federer is the Ponce de Leon of tennis with claims of discovering the fountain of youth. It's just that he obviously has good genes and good fortune and is a genius at designing the perfect schedule every year. Combined, that has kept him injury-free throughout his monumental career.
"[What's] important is that the body is OK, that the mind is fresh and ready to travel, willing to do the sacrifices and all those things," Federer said. "I feel very much at peace, and I'm happy. I always have to look 12 months ahead, as well, making sure I stay injury-free, that I stay hungry for more."
Success and fame, however, come with their pitfalls, and this week at the Shanghai Masters has been an example of the downside to being Federer.
Before Federer arrived in Shanghai, a Chinese blogger who goes by "Blue Cat Polytheistic Religion Founder 07" on the Internet threatened to assassinate Federer while the No. 1 is in town to play tennis. The user has since posted an apology, but his or her identity remains unknown.
The threat came before Federer came to China as a solo act -- the family was never meant to travel with him on this trip -- but he refused to back away from his commitment to the event. To ensure his safety in Shanghai, Federer has been followed by a heavy security detail composed of big, burly guys wearing all-black suits since his arrival.
"Obviously it's been a different kind of last few days than other tournaments in the past," Federer said. "But I'm happy I am here after all.
"I felt very safe here. The authorities have been wonderful. The government has been very supportive, made me feel extremely welcome. I've felt great the whole time I've been here."
Federer, who admits he would've preferred if the death threat hadn't gone public, didn't let it get in the way of securing a 6-3, 7-5 win over qualifier Lu Yen-Hsun of Taipei in his opening match Wednesday night.
"There was maybe one quick thought," Federer said. "I saw one of the bodyguards outside of the court. I thought, 'Still around, obviously.' [But] I have bodyguards every time I play a match on a center court, which is normal. Once the match started, got under way, I never thought about it again."
It would be just like the smooth and suave Federer to be able to put a death threat out of his mind to get down to the business of being his always regal self.
Federer's achievements and ability to tune out distractions is a trait other players would love to see him bottle and distribute to colleagues.
"To me it's his performances throughout the whole year," Andy Murray said. "It's his consistency that's been the most impressive thing.
"Guys have had a lot of success and played well. Someone like [Andre] Agassi played very well deep into his 30s. But to have the consistency that Roger's had pretty much throughout every year and be right at the top of the game for so long, that's something that's not been done before, really."
While guys his age are starting to drop off the tour -- Andy Roddick, most recently -- Federer remains steadfast that he plans to play on for another four or five years if his body cooperates. So far, it's been sterling. He understands that the time will come when he might have to leave the family at home when his daughters have to go to school, but he is confident if he still wants to play at that time, he can orchestrate it all to work.
"I'd love to play for a long time," he said. "I need to look ahead if I want to stay in the game for a long time. I need to manage my schedule well."
Some might bet against Federer, as they did when he declared he had more Grand Slam titles to win, but he's proved that to be unwise. So, at least for now, it's probably better to believe he won't be saying "Roger and out" anytime soon.