French Open 2015: Roger Federer ‘in good shape’ as he continues unbroken century

Roger Federer is embarking on his 62nd consecutive Grand Slam campaign, his 64th in total, at the French Open

It is a startling figure, the one that prompted a news piece about Roger Federer on ATPWorldTour.com.

When the Swiss superstar takes to court tomorrow at Roland Garros, he will be embarking on his 62nd consecutive Grand Slam campaign, his 64th in total.

Indeed Federer played his first Major at this very tournament in 1999, just 17 years old and less than a year after winning the Wimbledon Junior title. He was not an immediate success—he lost in the first round, as he did at Wimbledon the following month—but it would be the start of something big.

For Federer has played in the main draw of every Grand Slam this century, eight more than the third man on the all-time list, his current mentor and childhood idol, Stefan Edberg.

It is not, of course, a case only of exceptional consistency and longevity for the 33-year-old world No2. He has won more Grand Slam titles than any other man and played more overall finals than any other man—17 and 25 respectively. And there is no sign of him slowing down: He has three titles already this year and reached the finals of the Masters in Indian Wells and Rome, beaten on both occasions by the world No1 Novak Djokovic. In return, he happens to be the only man since the Australian Open to beat Djokovic, in Dubai.

However, there have finally been signs that, while Federer’s desire for his sport and for competition remains undimmed, he is happy to hand over the limelight to his fellow, and younger, members of the “big four”: Andy Murray, who is enjoying his best ever clay season; Rafael Nadal, aiming to win a 10th French Open title; and Djokovic, the undoubted front-runner on the tour with the Australian Open and four Masters titles to his name.

For as Federer said after arriving later than usual in Rome, he has a lot to accommodate in his life apart from tennis—two sets of twins, for a start: “We have got a lot of things happening at home and so we are just happy that it’s the way it is right now… we call each other five times a day, just making sure everything’s good at home, everything’s good with me. I’m very busy as it is… and arriving late to events also helps soften the blow for me being away from the family.”

Federer arrived in Paris, though, in plenty of time to launch his assault on what would be only his second Roland Garros title, and had fitted in plenty of practice. He was also reunited with Edberg for the first time since Monte-Carlo, and he talked of the input of the six-time Grand Slam champion, even at the clay Major that eluded Edberg himself.

“We did see each other in Monaco for over a week. I saw him recently on the clay already to get his input on this surface early on… Went to Istanbul with Severin [Luthi], and also Madrid and Rome, which went well for me considering.

“So I’m in good shape, but it’s just important that we see each other from time to time again.

“It’s nice spending time. He lets me know what he’s seeing; what he thinks needs some improvement. Here now I think all the players, not just myself, have to do a major adjustment to different playing conditions. I know it sounds a bit silly, but the conditions are totally different from what we have seen the last few weeks, because the balls are very dead, really… whereas all of the clay court season played very different.

“So that’s why for me, while the results in the past play a role that can give you confidence… I think we will see quite different tennis to the last six weeks, which I think is going to be a test for all of us. That’s why I think the first round is actually quite important here. But Stefan, to have him around is always great and he gives me good input.”

And what of the buzz surrounding the ranking of defending champion Nadal, which has scheduled the Spaniard in the draw against Djokovic in the quarter-finals. For the talk, not surprisingly, is that 2015 could the year for the Serb to claim the only missing Major from his resume. He has, after all, won both the clay Masters he has entered this year, Monte-Carlo and Rome, beating Nadal along the way, while Nadal has struggled to assert himself on the surface that he has dominated for the last decade. He has, in fact, won just a single title on the red stuff, in Buenos Aires.

“It will be interesting to see Rafa play Novak. There is no big difference. Rafa is ranked between 5 and 8, so I knew that I could play him in the quarter-finals or semi-finals. But it makes no difference. He’s very difficult to beat unless you can prove me the contrary. Except for Soderling, I don’t really know who else can do it. I’m waiting to see.

“I think [the draws] are interesting for the media. They may be important for certain players. But once again, at the end of the day, it’s just news, but here I am focused again on what I have to do. It’s interesting to keep an eye on the draws, of course [but] it’s not something that I monitor very closely.”

As for stepping out of the limelight, he was happy to play a low-profile role—though ‘low-profile’ is a relative term when it comes Federer’s popularity.

“I prepare for the tournament. I train. I have to talk to the press. So 99 per cent remains the same. Novak gets a lot of attention: He’s trying to win Roland Garros for the first time. He’s been playing very, very, well. He’s just been incredibly successful, and I think he really deserves the attention. Rafa, what can I say? He’s an incredible player. You know, it took me eight years. Took him nine years, you know, nine victories. It’s normal that he should get so much attention.

“Clearly having Rafa in Novak’s section is the biggest of news, if you like. But you don’t want to disrespect all the players that are in between those two. That’s the tendency from your side. We, the players, are very careful, because there are tour professionals there that are unbelievable players, and they get forgotten in the process.”

Finally, Federer did talk of his own prospects here in Paris—and his hopes of a deeper run than his unexpectedly early departure last year in a gruelling five-setter against Ernests Gulbis. Perhaps it was with that in mind that he answered.

“I will take it a match at a time, you know. I feel like I have had a great last 12 months. I have had a good beginning of the season, really. I’m happy with my level of play, and that’s where my focus lies. I know there are a lot of good players out there that want to win the tournament, who can win the tournament. Others who are dangerous on the day. Every draw is the same thing.

“[I have to make sure] I adjust my game according to the playing conditions here, and then we will see how far it takes me. I think there is a chance to go very deep. How deep remains to be seen depending on the level of play.”

Federer opens against a man who made one of those explosive runs against him in the first round of Wimbledon in 2010, Alejandro Falla, then ranked 60. Federer was two sets to one down as they went into a fourth set tie-break: he won it and eventually raced to a win through the final set. The same man took him to three sets in the 2012 Olympics and to two tie-breakers in last year’s Halle final. Federer will be very far from complacent.

Federer’s first seed is scheduled to be the huge-serving Ivo Karlovic, who took him to three sets in Basel last year. His Round 4 seeds are also only too familiar. Pablo Cuevas, ranked at a career-high 22, took Federer to a 7-6(11) tie-break in the Istanbul final, and another tie-break in Rome last week. And Gael Monfils has beaten Federer in their last two matches, including a straight-sets win in Monte-Carlo. In fact Monfils has won four of their last seven matches.

As the enduring Swiss says, there are a lot of good players out there, and all are eager to cause their upset, make their run. It was ever thus. All the more remarkable that Federer has continued to take on all comers at each and every Grand Slam this century.

Paul Merson
Paul Merson makes prediction about where Arsenal will finish next season
Gossip
Frenkie De Jong
Man United reach 'broad agreement' on fee to sign Frenkie De Jong - report
Gossip
Thomas Tuchel
Chelsea FC close to signing Brazilian playmaker Raphinha in £55m deal - report
Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano: Arsenal and FC Barcelona will 'try until the end' to sign Raphinha
Gossip
Frenkie De Jong
Fabrizio Romano: Man United and FC Barcelona 'clear' on final fee for Frenkie De Jong
Paul Merson
Paul Merson makes prediction about where Arsenal will finish next season
Gossip
Frenkie De Jong
Man United reach 'broad agreement' on fee to sign Frenkie De Jong - report
Gossip
Thomas Tuchel
Chelsea FC close to signing Brazilian playmaker Raphinha in £55m deal - report
Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano: Arsenal and FC Barcelona will 'try until the end' to sign Raphinha
Gossip
Frenkie De Jong
Fabrizio Romano: Man United and FC Barcelona 'clear' on final fee for Frenkie De Jong
Slideshow
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature