I almost titled this post “Breaking News: Roger Federer has a coach!” but realized that sarcasm is often misinterpreted, especially in headlines.
At the very top of my long list of tennis pet peeves is the perpetuation of the myth that Roger Federer doesn’t have a coach. Yes, going it alone was a point of pride during a particularly fruitful time of Roger’s career, and it’s always fun to hear Brad Gilbert joke that Mirka “out-coached him” during that rain-delayed Wimbledon final in 2004. I admit to having overlooked Luthi’s role in the past, particularly during the dark, post Australian Open melt-down period of 2009, when I pleaded with Roger to hire a “real” coach. (Yes, that was a one-sided conversation.) But the truth is that Severin Luthi has been sitting in Federer’s box and lurking around his practice sessions for years – at least since 2008 – and is always named by the Man, himself, as his coach.
Yet for whatever reason, some people refuse to believe it:
Funny how rain brings on the coaching stories. After successfully dealing with rain-interruptions, tricky conditions and a game Alejandro Falla in his second round match at Roland Garros on Wednesday, Roger Federer discussed Coach Luthi’s under-the-radar role in detail. Are my days of grumbling and eye rolling almost over? Boo.
Q. How much did the conditions bother you at all today? Was the coming on and off the court annoying, or how did you feel about that?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I thought ‑‑ obviously the court played very different to two days ago. You know, the texture of the clay changes drastically when there’s no sun. It gets wet. Conditions slow down, you know, a lot.
So that was a bit of an adjustment I had to make when I started the match. Obviously I practiced before, and that gave me a sense of how it was going to be.
But the first rain delay wasn’t too long. We got in and, and 10, 15 minutes later we’re back out. It was a matter of quickly changing shirt and getting a chance to speak to your coach and coming up with the proper game plan depending on the scoreline.
I think that helped me, actually, because after that I played a good set. He gave me some good advice, and obviously the second rain delay was actually quite comfortable because I was up two sets to love.
So from then on, everything is much more easier and much more relaxed.
Q. When you spoke about coming back after the rain delays, you said your coach gave you good advice and therefore you were able to hit Alejandro while he was maybe cold. Was that a particularly planned strategy during both the first and the second rain delays?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, the first rain delay I was trying to play more aggressive. He convince me that I should do it and try it and come to the net more often and take chances, which I started to do. That’s what worked second set.
Then the third set, as the conditions were getting so slow, he said, Use the dropshot more often, as well, which I did on a couple of key points. So those were good things he told me. Those little details make a crucial difference.
That one break, for instance, in the third. Instead of having to play at even score I can play with a break advantage, and that changes momentum big time
Q. So much is made of a player/coach relationship. Do you think that Severin’s role in your career at the moment is slightly underrated, and perhaps people don’t give him as much credit as he perhaps deserves?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I don’t know. It depends on who you ask or who speaks. Maybe he doesn’t have the biggest name in the game because he wasn’t No. 1 in the world himself or has coached 15 other top guys, you know.
I don’t think you necessarily need that to be a good coach, you know. He gives everything he has every day, and people still think he’s a part‑time coach, which he’s obviously not because he’s traveled the last two, three years with me now full time.
He’s also Davis Cup captain, so he has a lot of experience by now, obviously. It works really well with me. Also in tougher times, which we had to go through the last three years, he’s always been very positive. Maybe he’s underrated because I don’t follow too much what you guys write about him, maybe.
I know he doesn’t speak too much to you guys, so we don’t talk about it. (laughter.)
Q. My question is about your coach, coming back to your coach. What do you ask to a coach exactly? I mean, the level you are, the knowing you have about game and everything, the experience you have, which answer your coach, this coach can give to you that you don’t know? And what are you really looking for in a coach now?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I mean, I don’t have the time to go scout out future opponents. Like today, for instance, I don’t know if they will be able to play Rochus and Reister. But Reister, I think I’ve only warmed up with him once in Hamburg a couple years ago. Obviously I don’t remember how he plays.
Obviously Olivier I know well, but there’s still maybe that something extra out there I have forgotten or I don’t know still and he can come up with. Then it’s just good to have someone to be able to debate about my game and the opponents’ game and come up with a game plan, obviously.
I have my ideas from all my experience, but then he’s also seen my past matches the last day, the last weeks, the practice sessions, and then he’s got a good sense of what I’m doing well and not so well. Then you can structure a game around those problems or those strengths.
Yeah, so it’s been going well and smooth. But then again, every player needs different things. It’s crazy how players think. You know, for some, the coach is not important; for some it’s the physio; for some it’s not the physio but the condition trainer; for some it’s just good to have a friend on tour.
I think every player needs to look what they need most, really.
THE MODERATOR: Questions in French, please.
Q. We’ll still be talking about the coach. Now, in such a situation like today, does it sometimes happen that you don’t agree with your coach when you analyze this situation? You know, like the tips he gives you, Severin? If this is the case, who’s going to decide finally?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I know I’ll ask him, Why have you said this? Why have I said this? We never say the other one is totally crazy. No, no, it’s never happened to us. Never.
It’s never happened with any of my coaches, because it’s always reasonable. There’s always a reason why they say these things.
So what am I going to bitch about now that Roger’s proven without a smidgen of doubt, that Severin Luthi really, truly is his coach? I guess there’s always my other pet peeve: calling Major tournaments “Grand Slams.”