GTT has the best readers in the world! Huge thanks and a big “MUWWWAH!” to French reader “whynotme” for translating this fantastic article that was written for the French sports daily, L’Equipe - I believe it’s only in the print version but not online. Whynotme posted the article in the comments section of the ATP draw post and, man, it’s so good, I just had to post it on its own. (Long time readers will also remember “whynotme’s” keen insights into Rafael Nadal’s “Poulidor Syndrome” problem at the French Open last year.)
Of course Federer’s opinion on the Tiger Woods scandal is of general interest (is it?) so I put it in the headline. But really, the best stuff in this article is Roger’s no bullshit thoughts on his goals, present and future, and his opponents, past and present. Unlike many interviews, I think there’s some new insight in here – and NO diaper questions!
So please enjoy, and a big “MERCI!!!!” to whynotme!
Tuesday January 5th, 21h30, Roger Federer is chatting on the backseat of the car that drives him back from the stadium to the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Doha. The interview has been suggested to him unexpectedly and he said : “No problem, just get in the car”. When this kind of things happen, you don’t ask the driver if he’s got his driving license; you just jump in the car. Here we go. Federer is beginning his 12th year on the tour. But this one is different: ‘It’s the 2nd half-time of my career’ he says. Grand Slam titles record? Done. Roland-Garros? Done. So what’s left?
Q: For the first time since a long time, you start the season not having to answer those 2 questions: ‘Are you going to break Sampras’ record any time soon?’ and ‘Are you finally going to win Roland-Garros?’ Do you miss them?
RF: (he laughs) Now I’m done with unpleasant questions! Frankly, it’s relaxing. A year ago, I was No. 2 in the world, I was about to lose the final in Melbourne and people were relentlessly questioning me.
Q: Now that you’ve won at least once each of the Grand Slams, now that you hold the Grand Slams titles record, don’t you feel a sense of emptiness?
RF: It’s the end of a period. Within one month last year, between RG and Wimbledon, I reached those 2 great goals. I think it changed my life, but I never felt ‘empty’ afterwards. I’ve never woken up one morning asking myself: ‘What do I do now?’ We’re lucky because tennis is a very dense sport. There’s the rankings, Grand Slams, Masters 1000, head-to-heads… Sometimes I motivate myself just by thinking about the history I have with one player. [whynotme – Murray at the end of last year? LOL]
Q: You haven’t felt the need to think about what happens next, about your goals?
RF: No. The desire to play comes naturally. What I often do is that I go back to the beginning: why did I chose tennis as a kid? Why did I work so hard during all those years? What do I like so much when I play tennis? And the answers come easily. It’s simple: I don’t really think there is someone who loves tennis more than I do.
Q: But don’t you feel like a burden has disappeared?
RF: Yes and no. Personally I think the pressure is always there, and it’s a good thing. It’s a different pressure, but it has not disappeared. Anyway, if one day there’s nobody to put pressure on me anymore, I’ll still be there to put it on myself. I don’t even remember having played a match without feeling any pressure.
Q: You like challenges [whynotme – they do not mean Hawk-Eye ], so here are some. Tell us if you’re motivated by them.
RF: OK, here we go.
Q: You need 2 more Masters 1000 to beat Agassi’s record of 17.
RF: Mmmmmh. I’m not really excited by that. Masters 1000 have been existing only for 20 years, and I don’t know how many of them great players from the past could have won. So this record does not mean much.
Q: Another challenge. If you stay world No. 1 after RG, you’ll beat Sampras’ all-time record of 286 weeks.
RF: This is an important record to me. When I beat Connors’ record (consecutive weeks as world No. 1) I already thought it was really great. Staying in the front that long when you know who is behind you, it’s not easy. By the way, my main goal this year is to finish the year No. 1 in the world. It has been so hard to get that ranking back.
Q: So you want to stay No. 1. What else?
RF: To win more tournaments. Last year, I won 4 of them. They were big ones, but I have to be able to do better. I lacked titles in smaller tournaments. True, I had to withdraw several times, because of an injury or because I needed some rest (Dubai, Halle, Tokyo). So I focused entirely on big tournaments, and I don’t really like it. Before I withdraw from Tokyo last year, I had told Seve (Luthi): ‘I’m going there to serve-and-volley on 1st and 2nd serves’. Because I thought it could help me later.
Q: Speaking of later, when do you think you’ll end your career?
RF: To calm down everybody, I said I’ll play until the 2012 Olympic Games in London. But it’s a minimum. I don’t think I’ll stop there. I see myself playing after, but differently. I’ll try to play some new tournaments, to do some exhibitions in South America, where I’ve nearly never been to.
Q: You’re in the top 10 since you’ve entered it in October, 2002. Do you think today’s top 10 is stronger than back in 2002, with Safin, Hewitt, Novak, Henman, Grosjean, Ferrero?
RF: Tough question. I’m not so sure. Nowadays, the guys have less weaknesses but maybe also less main strengths. Before, players were more surprising, with more varied games. It was harder to dominate on a specific surface. Nowadays playing conditions are been standardized and the players as well. Often, when I watch players like Davydenko, Del Potro or Djokovic, I wonder what their best shot is…
Q: If you had to chose one player that is going to reach a new milestone in 2010, who would it be?
RF: If I had to chose only one, it would be Murray. He has built himself cleverly, he won a lot of Masters 1000, he already has a lot of experience. That being said, Del Potro never won a Masters 1000 but still won the US Open. A year ago, I would never have said predicted that. He was not really using the strength of his serve, unlike now. He’s improved so much.
Q: And what about the winner of the World Tour Finals, who just beat you 2 times in a row?
RF: Oh, Davydenko! I can tell you I’m going to follow him very closely in Melbourne. The Australian Open is going to show us if he can keep up with this rhythm, and if he can beat us in best-of-five matches. This is so interesting!
Q: Monfils, Tsonga, Simon, Gasquet, you’re interested?
RF: A lot. We all know they have a big potential. Let’s say they confirmed it last year. Now, they need to make a breakthrough and therefore to be less injured. Richard is going to go up quite fast. The big question is how far?
Q: Nadal has not won a tournament since Rome last year, in May. Some think he’ll never be what he once was.
RF: This is bullshit [‘conneries’ in French]. It reminds me what people said about me last year. I’ve seen Rafa play in Abu Dhabi and in Doha: he lacks absolutely nothing. Granted, he’s not won in a long time. But look at those who beat him: Del Potro, Murray, Davydenko, Djokovic, Soderling… They’re not bad! Think about it: had he played Wimbledon last year and not lost 2,000 points from his victory in 2008, where would he be right now? He came back from injury, so it’s normal that he lacked confidence. But to me, the really great Rafa is still to come.
Q: You never had any serious injuries. The Australian Open is your 41th GS tournament in a row. Is it hard work or luck?
RF: Both. I’m expecting myself to be fit in big tournaments. You cannot just come at Grand Slams with a small injury. Ladies can handle the 3 first rounds while healing, men just can’t. My style of play helps me to last longer. Most of the time, I decide how the point is played, I make the other one run. When Rafa takes 45 minutes to win a set, I can take 30. I worked really hard when I was a junior to build myself an efficient armor. Now, I work less hard, but more precisely.
Q: You’re 28 and you can’t recover as fast as before. Is it why you hired Stephane Vivier, a French physio?
RF: He’s from Marseille on top of that! (he laughs) It’s true that your age matters. Until this season, I always had masseurs, and I wanted to work with a physio. He had worked a long time with the ATP and I didn’t want people to think that I was stealing him, like ‘Sorry guys, but I’m Federer. Now he’s mine’. I think everybody took it well.
Q: What do you mean by ‘working more precisely’?
RF: When you’re young, you don’t warm up. You play on your PlayStation and when you’re called to play the match, you leave. Now, I consistently take a 10-minutes muscle warm-up right before the match. I strengthen my back nearly everyday because I’ve had problems in the past. I’ve always felt my back wasn’t strong enough.
Q: And what about your sleep? Word is that you sleep like a log.
RF: True! If I don’t sleep 11 or 12 hours a day, it’s not right. If I don’t have that amount of sleep, I hurt myself. When the twins cry and I’m in a tournament, I put my earplugs in and I go back to sleep.
Q: You withdrew from the Davis Cup 1st round. Is it because it’s against Spain, in Spain, and on clay?
RF: Not because it’s Spain. Just because it’s on clay. Between Dubai and Indian Wells, it just doesn’t fit. It saddens me, but I know why I took that decision.
Q: Some said it was self-centered and unpatriotic. People thought that after having beaten Sampras’ record you would be able to play the Davis Cup…
RF: People have to understand that it’s just not possible to do everything. Had I made another choice, maybe I wouldn’t have won RG last year. Do people prefer me to play the Davis Cup or to hold the GS record? Don’t Swiss people prefer having me as the world No. 1? If I play it and then it costs me in the rankings, people will always be there to tell me: ‘Ho, hum, you’re not no1 anymore!’
Q: Is it really impossible to do both?
RF: I consider that a Davis Cup round amounts to take out one Masters 1000. And I’m not ready to do that. I still favour my individual choices; time will come when this changes. You also have to understand that I do not have a team as abundant as Rafa’s with Spain. I’m not complaining. It’s just a fact. Rafa hasn’t played the quarterfinals and the semifinals last year. But people saw him as the star in the finals. They just forgot he wasn’t there before.
Q: Have you spoken to Tiger Woods since his problems were revealed?
RF: Yes, he is my friend and I told him I was there to support him. It’s really tough for him and his family to see their intimate problems flaunted everywhere.
Q: Have you learned something from the magnitude of this story?
RF: This is instructive. The tabloids are going crazy, sponsor contracts are falling apart… I’ve always been aware that the image you patiently construct for an entire career can be ruined in a minute. It scares you a bit, but that’s the way things are. Tiger needs calm. And soon he’ll become the wonderful golfer that we know again.
[this last question is a translation from some American media – whynotme]
whynotme: “There’s also a comment on Federer’s training with Monfils yesterday in Melbourne and a guy in Monfils’ team said: ‘They were playing really well. During the 1st set, Roger was literally flying on the court. I felt like he was playing without his racket! When you see him playing like that, with so much ease, you start thinking that he could really play until his mid-30s.’
So apparently no problem with the wrist!”
The top insights I got from this interview:
1. Roger really can sleep 12 hours a day? I’m impressed. The sleep of the innocent, I think.
2. Really, we’re really going to get serve and volley Federer back from 2001?
3. It will be really fun watching Roger try to hold onto the No. 1 ranking this year. Methinks he may be playing a lot more in Asia this fall!
4. Roger’s a good friend.