By MICHAEL CASEY
AP Sports Writer
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have played in the last two Grand Slam finals, and it’s easy to imagine their rivalry overshadowing an aging Roger Federer and an injury-plagued Rafael Nadal in the years to come.
But the second-ranked Federer will have none of it.
As he prepares to defend his Dubai Championships title, the 31-year-old Federer said Sunday he is playing “excellent tennis” and is confident he can overtake Djokovic for the top spot.
He acknowledged, though, it will be a challenge given that he plans to scale back his schedule in 2013. He wants to take several weeks off before the start of the clay season.
“Absolutely realistic, if you play great,” Federer said of returning to No. 1, a spot he last held for 17 weeks until Oct. 29, breaking a record of 286 weeks at the top held by Pete Sampras.
“Time will tell,” Federer said. “I know it’s possible. I know it’s possible to win tournaments. But right now, a big focus is on making sure every tournament I enter that I’m perfectly prepared, like for here, for Australia, for Indian Wells.”
Federer also brushed aside talk of retirement, making it clear he remains healthy and hungry to win more trophies, including another Grand Slam title — preferably Wimbledon, which he has won seven times. He is going for his sixth title in Dubai.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion added to his total with a Wimbledon title in 2012 but lost in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open and the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open.
“I want to give myself the best possible chance to play as long as I can,” Federer said.
“Eventually, it will be clear that it is time to stop, but the time is definitely not now,” he said. “But then again, things change very quickly. You have to be ready for it and open to it. I’m not naive that I can play for 15 more years, but I would like to give myself a chance to play for many more years to come. I’m happy with where my body is at.”
Federer said the recent focus on a Djokovic-Murray rivalry made sense to some degree. But with four different players winning the four Grand Slam events last year, he said it was premature to turn the men’s game into a two-man competition.
“Yes, they have played more often than not, and they have played in some big matches and very often the matches have been very good. So naturally that is what the media looks at. I understand that,” he said. “It’s all a question of how you see things. Rafa also has not been involved in this whole process the past seven months, so you don’t want to jump the gun too quick.”
Djokovic, who is also in Dubai and going for his fourth title, agreed.
“I cannot pick (Murray) over Roger and Rafa because all three of them are still my biggest rivals,” Djokovic said. “I cannot pick one of those three guys because Roger and Rafa have been so dominant in our sport and they have still — from all of the active players — the biggest rivalry.”
Djokovic said he was impressed with what he saw from Nadal in Brazil, where the Spaniard won his first title earlier this month since returning from a knee injury.
“He’s still playing really, really good on clay, and I didn’t expect any different,” Djokovic said. “Again, I’m not in his shoes and I don’t know how he physically feels. … I’m sure that’s going to give him a lot of confidence for the rest of the season, because that’s what he wanted. It doesn’t matter at what level and it’s great for tennis that he’s back — there’s no question about it.”
After Djokovic won the Australian Open, attention turned to whether he can match his 2011 exploits, when he captured three major titles, had a 43-match winning streak and finished the year 70-6. The Serb said he was “in a strong position” to win more Grand Slam championships in 2013 and that he was “not hiding” the fact he wanted to win the French Open — where his chances have improved because of the injury troubles of seven-time champion Nadal.
And in a warning to his rivals, he said he is in a better state of mind than he was a year ago.
“Mentally, I do feel a little bit more relieved than I was at the start of 2012,” Djokovic said. “Following up after 2011 was an extreme challenge for me — mentally mostly — because I still played really well, but I found myself for the first time in a position to be the No. 1 in the world and to defend Grand Slam titles — three in a whole year.
“Right now, I’ve recuperated. I’ve learned my lesson; I’ve understood the experience that I went through, and I’m ready for new challenges.”
Ferrer beats Wawrinka in Copa Claro final
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — David Ferrer won his second tournament of the season by defeating Stanislas Wawrinka 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 on Sunday to successfully defend his Copa Claro title in the Argentine capital.
The top-seeded Ferrer broke his opponent six times — including three in the final set — to clinch the 20th title of his career. He won the Heineken Open last month in Auckland, New Zealand.
“Winning 20 ATP tournaments is tough to do,” Ferrer said. “Never in my life did I think I would win 20. It is something that, well, dreams come true more than we think.”
Wawrinka was aiming for his fourth ATP title, but could not match the consistency of Ferrer on the outdoor clay court. His last tournament victory was in 2011 at Chennai, India.
Ferrer won 11 straight points during one stretch of the third set, a slump from which Wawrinka couldn’t recover as he dropped serve three times.
Ferrer broke Wawrinka twice in the first set and then needed five set points in the 10th game before closing it out.
Wawrinka took the second set by capitalizing on Ferrer’s shaky first serve. He broke twice by returning well, often on the Spaniard’s second serve.
Ferrer won this tournament last year, beating Nicolas Almagro in an all-Spanish final. Backed by strong support from the Argentine crowd, Ferrer promised to return.
In the doubles final, the Italian pair of Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini defeated American Nicholas Monroe and Simon Stadler of Germany 6-3, 6-2.
Tsonga beats Berdych in Open 13 final
MARSEILLE, France — Jo-Wilfried Tsonga saved a match point before overcoming top-seeded Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 Sunday in the final of the Open 13.
The third-seeded Frenchman won his first title of the season and 10th of his career.
Tsonga had to wait until the third game of the last set before getting his first break of serve, when Berdych netted a forehand. The 2008 Australian Open runner-up clinched the victory when Berdych hit a service return long.