LONDON -- Roger Federer heads into the ATP World Tour Finals feeling confident but realistic about the challenges that lie ahead, saying he is not the favorite to win the title for what would be a record seventh time.
"Dominating the field isn't very easy," Federer said Friday at the O2 Arena, host of the year-end championships. "I think it's really only Novak [Djokovic] at this point [who] is the only person who can say, 'If I play as well as I have the last few months, maybe I can also win the World Tour Finals.' But not even that is given, because, especially over the best-of-three-sets matches indoors, margins are slimmer, so you can slip fast."
Between 2003 and 2011, Federer failed to reach the semifinals on only one occasion, in 2008.
Still, it's been seven years since Federer, who is 37, won the title, and the days of total domination again go through Djokovic.
Since losing to Marco Cecchinato in the French Open quarterfinals in June, Djokovic has gone on a tear, winning 35 of 38 matches, including two Grand Slam titles, and regained the world No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal. This season, Djokovic became the first man in ATP history to go from outside the top 20 (No. 22 in March) to finish the year No. 1.
"I am very proud," Djokovic said Friday. "It is extra special this year because of the whole journey I've been through, particularly the last eight, 10 months. After February's elbow surgery, it looked quite improbable that I would be in this position as the year-end No. 1."
This was especially true after he fell in the opening round of Indian Wells and Miami in back-to-back events in March. Djokovic's right elbow was still not 100 percent.
"I was far from ready to compete," he said. "But there was always part of me that believed I could make it back. I never thought it was impossible. I just thought at the time it might take more time than I wish it to be. It turned out to be a perfect five months of the year with two Grand Slam titles."
While Federer has hardly dominated, he did win the Australian Open in January. But he skipped the French Open and lost earlier than expected at Wimbledon and the US Open.
Last month, Federer rebounded on his home soil in Basel for his 99th career title and a week later pushed Djokovic to a third-set tiebreaker when they met in the semifinals of the Paris Masters.
"If I'd known last year that this was going to be the season, I would have taken it," Federer said. "I'm very happy that I've won a Slam. Maybe Wimbledon and the US Open didn't go the way that I had been hoping they would, but they were really the only two disappointments of the season. I just had a really solid season, and I stayed injury-free in particular for most of the year, so I'm very happy so far."
With Nadal out of the World Tour Finals with a right knee injury, Federer was elevated to the No. 2 seed and placed in a different group than Djokovic. Federer will play his first round-robin match Sunday against Kei Nishikori. Djokovic opens against American John Isner on Monday night.