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Why nerves are a positive sign for Roger Federer

LONDON -- Roger Federer nervous walking onto Centre Court at Wimbledon?

This would be akin to someone being nervous walking into their home before sitting down on their sofa to watch television.

After all, that is the comfort level Federer has had at Wimbledon's Centre Court, the venue he's won at seven times.

But there Federer was, at 35 years old, his heart racing and palms sweating, as he prepared Thursday to face 79th-ranked Dusan Lajovic, 27, in the second round.

"I was feeling nerves for some reason. I'm not sure why," Federer said. "I think it was just like all of a sudden I was walking up to the locker room after my warm-up and I was just, you know, feeling excited and nervous. And then when I walked to the court and it was still ongoing and after the warm-up it was still there.

"And down 1-0, love-40, it was still there, and then it was still there at 7-6 in the first set. It just took a while to shake it off."

While he was pushed to the brink in the first set, Federer calmed himself and defeated Lajovic in straight sets 7-6 (0), 6-3, 6-2, advancing to a third-round match against Mischa Zverev on Saturday.

"I was not nervous at all for the first round, so I think in the third round I will feel better again," Federer said. "It's weird how sometimes you can be way more nervous for a second round than, say, for a finals, believe it or not.

"It's like you wake up every day the same, and I'm happy I got through this one feeling the way I did, because in a way it's strange playing this way when you're so tense. Yet you have nothing to lose or in a way that's what I'm telling myself, just play freely. It's not just that simple once you get out there."

It would be natural to assume Federer has nothing to lose at Wimbledon after everything he has accomplished in his career -- but he's not viewing this tournament or any tournament he plays in as a farewell tour. Not the way he has been playing this year.

Federer will turn 36 next month and has no imminent plans on retirement, but he has missed three of the past five Grand Slam events after an Open era-record 65 straight appearances.

He hasn't won Wimbledon since 2012, which came one month before his 31st birthday, making him the second-oldest Wimbledon champion ever. That had been his last major title before he beat Rafael Nadal in January at the Australian Open to become the oldest winner of a Grand Slam -- at 35 years old -- since 1972.

Federer is tied with Pete Sampras and William Renshaw as a seven-time champion here. Another win would not only put Federer in a class by himself, but extend his record number of Grand Slam championships to 19.

But how realistic is a Wimbledon championship for Federer this year?

Well, Federer has yet to drop a set through his first two wins of this year's tournament. He hasn't just looked dominant this week, he has enjoyed a renaissance in 2017 after a nightmarish 2016 that saw him limited to just seven tournaments after he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in February.

Federer is 7-0 this season against top-10 players, his best start to a season since 2004, and has won all four finals he has played. It's just the fourth time he has won his first four tour-level finals in a season and first since 2012. You know what else Federer did those years? Won Wimbledon.

While Federer might not be the same player today as he was back then, he still has the same nerves on tour and on court as he did when he first started; that might be the greatest sign yet that he isn't done celebrating victories on Centre Court.

"I always say when I'm nervous, I care, which is a great thing," Federer said. "Eventually you miss the competition of those nerves, but also just seeing my fellow tennis players, friends on the tour and so many people that go with it; tournament organizers, tournaments, fans, you name it, so I think you start missing that, of course."