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Federer looking to lengthen legacy

PARIS -- The twins, Charlene Riva and Myla Rose, are on the cusp of five years now. On Sunday, they wriggled through most of the first set in Roger Federer's box at Court Philippe Chatrier.

They wore matching pink headbands, pink sunglasses, white dresses with black polka dots and intricate heart-shaped braids in their auburn hair. Even candy and Smurf comic books could not contain them; one nearly escaped, scaling about 20 steps before the nanny ran her down. They lasted only seven games before they were escorted from the stadium -- precisely as long as a can of the Babolat balls they use at the French Open.

In our minds, their father has nothing left to prove. His tennis accomplishments are so sweeping, so staggering that there is no mountain left to conquer. But to Federer's way of thinking, all the fame and fortune -- not to mention those glittering 17 Grand Slam singles titles -- is never enough. A legacy can always be larger. And, to be sure, Rafael Nadal is creeping dangerously close in the race for history's most majors. Which, of course, is why Federer is still Federer and out here banging balls three months shy of his 33rd birthday.

So though you might feel Federer, that newly minted father of four and the No. 4 seed, is playing with house money, he thinks he's behind, trying to win his way out of a deep, deep hole. Eleven days after he was bounced from the run-up event in Rome by Jeremy Chardy, Federer again took the court. There did not appear to be a great deal of rust to shake off.

Federer gently dismantled Lukas Lacko, a sturdy 26-year-old from Slovakia, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 in a swift 84 minutes.

This was Federer's 58th consecutive Grand Slam event and his 308th major match (he's approaching 1,200 for his career), but he said he experienced a few anxious moments beforehand.

"Hints of fear, maybe yesterday, maybe this morning," he said. "At one point, just for like five seconds, 'I really hope I don't have to pack my bags today.'"

Federer, who seems truly born again after the recent arrival of twins Lenny and Leo, seemed to welcome his extra time off.

"When I went to training, I knew what I needed to work on," Federer said a few days ago. "Clearly was very exciting times. It's an important stretch now for me, and I don't want to come into this tournaments uninspired or tired. That will be the worst thing.

"For me, it's really about being fresh mentally more than anything at this point."

And that is the point.

At 32, Federer doesn't cover the court quite as well or unleash the power of his younger rivals Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, but he still possesses talents of vision, anticipation and timing that border on the obscene. The bookmakers have him as the fourth choice, an attractive 16-1 shot. Still, it's almost certain that Nadal, Djokovic and Murray will not age as gracefully as the Swiss athlete, who still seems to hover around the court, leaving little evidence of his journey through the red clay.

Against Lacko, Federer was typically fluent and fluid, moving Lacko around with a disarming ease.

Because Nadal has created such a monopoly of this event, Federer is one of only two active men to have actually won it. He completed his career Grand Slam in 2009, when Nadal exited in the fourth round at the hands of Robin Soderling. The Swiss' very first match here occurred 15 years ago, to the day. That day, a 17-year-old Federer took the first set from No. 3-ranked Patrick Rafter -- and then won only five games over the last three sets.

Fun facts: The win over Lacko gives Federer his first as a father of four -- and a total of 59 match wins at Roland Garros, moving him past Guillermo Vilas and tying him (for a day at least) with Nadal for the most by any man.

While Fabrice Santoro took Federer through his on-court interview, the twins couldn't have cared less. They were back in their seats, engrossed in their cartoon books. Federer, who clearly enjoys the entire process of being a champion, looked resolute.

A legacy can always be larger.