Swiss journalist and Federer-biographer Rene Stauffer did a fantastic interview with Roger Federer’s fitness trainer, Pierre Paganini, published today in the online edition of Tages Anzeiger.
Paganini has worked with Roger Federer since 2000, and has been a key to Roger’s longevity and continued success on tour. In this interview, Paganini addresses everything from Roger’s bout with mononucleosis in 2008 to next year’s Davis Cup plans to Roger Federer’s career prospects as a 36 year-old. Please note that this is my own (probably flawed) translation using a variety of resources and a little guessing. You can click here for a bare bones google translation:
Pierre Paganini, can Roger Federer continue to succeed in tennis for eight more years ? He says he aspires to play for as long as Andre Agassi, who continued to 36 years old
Paganini: It is crucial that you adapt the plan. A player with 850 matches behind him has a smaller tank than someone with just 200. It is not only about age but about the planning: Prepare to play and recuperate. As long as his health is good, there is every indication that he can keep this top level for a long time. I am convinced that as long as he plays, he will be very strong.
We do not reach certain limits, if the tank is smaller?
Paganini: You should just choose a different path so that the tank is full again. And Federer’s advantage is that he has so much experience at the highest level. This experience and his undiminished enthusiasm for tennis help him use his energy optimally. Also, he is an exceptional artist.
Nevertheless: At 35 Federer is likely to be athletic, but not as strong and fast as today.
Paganini: In tennis you can, at 35, still be fast enough if one has properly planned a career and implemented it. If you still have the fire, you bring the experience, anticipation and the training volume of 35 years – and Federer will be second to none. Therefore I see no difference. Jimmy Connors has proven that it is possible (Connors was a semifinalist at the U.S. Open at 39 years old).
How has Federer developed athletically in recent years? Where does he stand now?
Paganini: He has shown that he has become a fully mature athlete. How as a player, he now has a large routine and experience also as an athlete. He feels his body well and always knows how he can work with it – if he is tired, for example, which is part of the everyday life of a tennis player. His musculature has become even more balanced. After all these years we know each other better, because the whole time we’re talking and planning. We constantly learn from each other and have gained lots of experience. We now have to use it.
In 2008 he was set back by glandular fever. In your view, when did he recover from this, athletically?
Paganini: Last year, he lacked always two or three percent. Glandular fever is a really hard thing. And then the back pain came in the fall, that did not help either. I would say that from 2009 he was again his old self. But it was sensational, the way he fought through everything in 2008, even though he was limited. That limitation makes a big difference at this high level, and challenged him mentally to the extreme. 2008 was from the mental side one of his best years.
This year, Federer won two Grand Slam finals and lost the other two in the fifth sets. Did these defeats against Nadal in Melbourne and in New York against Del Potro have to do with athleticism?
Paganini: In my view, no – and I do not say this to gloss over anything. First, we play tennis, and this can be done well or poorly. As a fitness trainer I distinguish how you move, how intensely you can express yourself athletically and how long you manage this. These three parameters are equally important for me, and they influence themselves mutually. You can’t compare the five sets against Nadal in Melbourne and Del Potro in New York, because they were very different kinds of tennis.
In what respect?
Paganini: Against Nadal, it was physically an incredible match. Roger was fully present during four hours, and against the strenuous game of a Nadal in top form. It’s like when you speak a foreign language: It takes more energy. After the year with glandular fever, it was very positive. That was exactly the kind of match he needed to say: Hey, you’re back where you should be. After that, he proved in Roland Garros, where he sometimes struggled with his tennis, that he was able to handle multiple matches of three or more hours. We often underestimate the intensity of today’s top tennis. In New York it was obvious to both players that they already had a long season in the legs – that’s where you have to say that Del Potro played a great match.
How would you explain to a layman Federer’s back problems from the end of 2008?
Paganini: Tennis is just not balanced sport. At some point there is wear and tear in every player – but with Roger much less than others his age. But we must respect this point by giving ourselves more time to work more preventatively and to question again and again. Instead of five days in succession, training is then maybe three and a half days, with a 24 hour break, and then training again for two and a half days. Then you reach in six days the same training volume, but the body is given the opportunity to recover.
Before his winning streak began in Madrid, Federer subjected himself to some endurance tests during his training camps on Sardinia and in Switzerland in May. He said he had used them to confirm that his back was okay again.
Paganini: At some point you always want to know, especially before a series of tournaments, when one seeks rhythm. But he has also worked extremely hard in December 2008 and February this year.
How important was it for him to withdraw in March from Dubai and the Davis Cup in the USA?
Paganini: Luckily, he did it. The burden on his back would have been too great. This break was the foundation for his great season. It was the approach he needed to take at that stage for his tennis. What he has shown after that was unbelievable: two Grand Slam titles, final in New York, winning in Cincinnati …
Could it be that he plays less in the future?
Paganini: He will certainly listen a lot more to his body and his mind before making a decision. This need not mean that he plays fewer tournaments. He now has so much experience and knows what he has to look for. Of course, he would prefer to compete every week somewhere – but he knows the consequences of what he’s doing. Federer the man has Federer the player under control. He knows himself so well, he is quite exceptional in that regard.
Federer withdrew from the tournaments in Tokyo and Shanghai, after he had complained of pain in the thigh in Genoa. Where is he now physically a week away from his home tournament in Basel?
Paganini: After the Davis Cup, he wanted a break in order to prevent serious injury and heal the physical problems he had. This was sensible so he could really have time to recover after this super hard summer.
How did the program look during the past weeks?
Paganini: The first training block took place in Dubai, together with Severin Lüthi, and at the beginning physical conditioning stood in the foreground. The last week we came back to Switzerland. Now the tennis is the focus.
Thighs and back are no longer an issue?
Paganini: At the moment everything is okay, Roger is practicing normally, feels good. He says he’s looking forward to Basel. But when someone has played so much, you always need to be careful. You never have a guarantee, we must always be very careful.
This season lasts until the end of November and is two weeks longer than usual, and already the new season starts in early January. What implications does this have for your work and preparing for 2010?
Paganini: We can use certain things from the current training block as preparation for the training in December. Taken together, he then has enough training for 2010 despite a shorter break.
How has your work changed over the years with Federer?
Paganini: The distribution is different so flexibility has become more important. To work 140 days with Roger, means I’m available 365 days a year. We do have a common thread, but there are always adjustments.
Is Federer underestimated as an athlete?
Paganini: With certainty.
What sets him apart?
Paganini: He is nimble, persistent and highly coordinated, even after several hours and in 70, 80 matches per year. And for the last ten years. This is not just talent, but the result of hard work and willingness to repeat something again and again. In this way, Roger is strong. He works a lot more then people can imagine – because he usually trains when nobody sees him. He had to submit his whole life to a philosophy of work.
What sports would he otherwise have been destined to?
Paganini: He would be a great football player, sprinter, thrower – not exactly shot put, but a good javelin thrower. He would be a good volleyball player and a good skier.
Does it have an influence on your work now that he has a family with two children?
Paganini: The situation has become a little bit more complicated because they are now in a group of four instead of two. But Roger and Mirka know themselves so well, have traveled so many years with each other, and now they can profit from this experience. It has not necessarily become more difficult, but more exciting. We are accustomed to talk about any new situation in detail first.
They are also key advisers to him. How big is your influence?
Paganini: Roger, Mirka, Severin, and I have known each other now for more than ten years and talk a lot together. We have noticed how important this and the planning is. The result is that we have a very close working relationship and a deep trust. Roger sees how happy I am working with him and how flexible I am for him. A player has to make decisions for himself, but he should also respect what his sphere suggests to him. A charismatic player like Federer also needs an environment that has charisma. People who are strong enough to tell him what they think. He wants this too, and I’m one of those people.
Who are the others?
Paganini: Severin Luthi, Mirka Vavrin … sorry: Mirka Federer. For certain things his manager (Tony Godsick). And then of course in certain areas, his parents. That’s what’s good in our team: Everyone takes responsibility for his or her domain.
Will you advise Federer to play in March, 2010, against Spain in Davis Cup?
Paganini: I am the conditioning coach and do not say which goals the player should have. I advise him only to think strictly of himself if an event could influence his whole jigsaw puzzle negatively. As a conditioning coach, I do not come in on the subject of Davis Cup at all. But I know how much pleasure Roger takes in Davis Cup and everything he does for this team.
Click here for the original article – don’t miss the interesting sidebar on Paganini’s personal biography.