ATP World Tour Finals 2011: Federer on his love for London

Roger Federer loves London, is motivated by records and believes Novak Djokovic is here for the long haul

roger federer
Federer won last year's ATP World Tour Finals title in London Photo: Marianne Bevis

roger federer

Roger Federer, for whom the words laid-back and urbane seem designed, loves London, is motivated by records and believes Novak Djokovic is here for the long haul. That and more came under the spotlight at a packed ATP World Tour Finals round-table.

It’s been like home to Federer ever since he announced his intentions at Wimbledon in 2001. He beat Pete Sampras to reach the quarter-finals that year and went on to take the first of six titles in 2003.

He loves London’s lawns and takes perhaps his greatest pride in his achievements in the cradle of tennis. But next week, he will try to match his celebrated summer record in a very different London, one that is cool, damp and glowing with unseasonably late orange colour.

The British autumn has stretched its fingers into winter and Federer is stretching his fingers towards a Wimbledon-matching, record-breaking sixth World Tour Final title.

This will be the 10th straight time he has played in the year-end tournament, a feat that cannot be achieved with the relative ease of qualifying for a 128-player draw but by being, year in, year out, one of the elite eight players in the world.

So when asked if this title would be difficult to defend, the response had a deadpan logic that only Federer could deliver: “No, not really I’m used to it!”

He is, however, rather less used to the bright lights and sights of London the city, for this is only the third tour finale to be played at the O2 arena””the biggest indoor tennis event in the world.

And the man from Switzerland likes what he has seen.

“It’s a change for me to get to know the city a bit better, it’s so pretty and so nice. The setting here at the O2 is also pretty, and the fans are so supportive that there’s not many places I enjoy as much as playing in London.”

Much of that pleasure comes from the welcome he feels here: “It’s a place I feel very comfortable””I feel very welcome here. I think I have tremendous support in England and in London in particular. I’ve enjoyed my times here.”

It seems almost impertinent, then, to point out that he is one of three men in this year’s tournament who continue to excel in their 30th year””but there was method in that particular mad question.

Djokovic, whose 2011 achievements have sent pundits rushing for their record-books, has this year won 10 titles, including three Grand Slams and five Masters, for the loss of just four games. He also happens to be the youngest man playing at the O2. Could he maintain, as Federer had, that same outstanding form for another six years?

“I hope so, for him. He’s done very well for many years now”¦but this has been his exceptional year. I’m sure it’s possible [to maintain this level]. I think you take it year by year and you hope at least to play until 30 – then you see where you’re at and how you feel.

“He seems hungry and obviously once you get to world No1 you get more appetite for it, so it drains you more and you need more energy because of all the other things you have to do that go with being No1. I think he’s handled it really well so far.”

It must, though, be difficult to cut back when you’re winning everything?

“Yes it is. Yes, many difficult decisions to made by him in the next few years.”

What, then, is the elixir of youth from which Federer appears to drink?

Looking at the calm, measured way he fielded 20 minutes of questions in English, before moving on to French and Swiss German, one part of the magic lies in a penchant for listening, for paying heed, whatever the medium. He took six weeks out of the tour before winning Basel and Paris back-to-back because he knew his body and brain needed some rest and rehab.

But there is another crucial ingredient in the Federer recipe that derives not just from the breaking of records””though those are clearly “nice”””but from what they represent.

“It’s a motivation, an inspiration to see what great things have already been done in tennis before, and that I have been able to reach incredible milestones. It’s been an extra motivation for me trying to equal them, trying to do something like they did. If I pass them, that’s even better but it’s not really the objective.

“It’s just nice to be part of an elite group that’s done something so rare.”

Somewhere, perhaps, the Dorian Gray of tennis has a mouldering portrait of himself hidden away with the 69 trophies he has accumulated so far. The more likely explanation for Federer’s youthful longevity is, of course, that happy mix of motivation and pragmatism.

The oldest man in the World Tour Finals has faced many of the difficult decisions that the youngest man now faces.

In around six years’ time, we’ll know whether Djokovic has made the same astute choices that Federer has.

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