|Roger Federer of Switzerland wipes his face during his quarter-final match against Gael Monfils of France at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris May 31, 2011. (REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)
TORONTO -- It's rare that Roger Federer is an afterthought at any ATP event, let alone a Grand Slam.
But that's precisely the case for the world's No. 3 ranked player - who is outside the top two at a Slam for the first time since Wimbledon in 2003 - as he prepares to square off in a captivating battle against surging No. 2 Novak Djokovic in Friday's French Open semifinals.
Djokovic has won 42 straight matches in 2011, which is one short of John McEnroe's record of 43 to start a season and four behind Guillermo Vilas' all- time record of 46.
The 24-year-old also has beaten Federer three times this year - at the Australian Open, Dubai Tennis Championships and the BNP Paribas Open - conceding only one set to arguably the best player of all time.
If Djokovic continues his recent dominance of Federer on Friday, he will become the first player besides Federer and Rafael Nadal to be ranked No. 1 since Andy Roddick in 2004.
Federer knows the pressure that comes with being the best player in the world, but insists he's more focused on his game than preventing his opponent from reaching that illustrious plateau.
"It's not the driving force behind this match to be honest," he said following his quarterfinal victory over ninth-seeded Gael Monfils. "The plan is to get a step further and into the final at the French Open ... not to stop Novak.
"But I know he has a lot on the line. There's less at stake for me than him."
At 29, Federer is fast approaching the twilight of his career. It's unclear how many years of elite play he has left in the tank.
Pete Sampras won his last Grand Slam at 31, Andre Agassi at 32. With his efficient mastery of the court, it wouldn't be surprising to see Federer near the top for the next few years and continue to be a Slam threat early into his 30s like some of the greats before him.
He certainly hasn't shown his age at Roland Garros, rolling into the semis without losing a set and setting a record by reaching 28 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals.
While Djokovic has had Federer's number this year, it was the Swiss sensation who last toppled his Serbian counterpart in the semifinals of the 2010 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. Overall, the two have met 22 times, with Federer holding a 13-9 advantage and 4-3 in Grand Slam events.
Friday's showdown will mark the first time the two have met on clay since Djokovic toppled Federer in the 2009 Rome Masters semifinals, but Federer isn't too concerned about facing his rival on the troublesome conditions at Roland Garros.
"This is obviously different, being on clay ... we'll have to see what the conditions are like on the day," he said. "I don't think you have to change a lot (to adapt to the surface), but I haven't played him on clay for a long time."
The road ahead is not going to be easy for Federer. If he derails Djokovic, he will face the winner of fourth-seeded Andy Murray and long-time adversary and five-time French Open champ Rafael Nadal on Sunday.