For the fun of it: the Roger Federer guide to staying fresh and motivated
If keeping the tennis world on its toes keeps Roger Federer on his toes too, long may it last
When Roger Federer signed up to play the debut season of the International Premier Tennis League last December, it seemed something of an afterthought.
It was Rafael Nadal who had been on the start list for the Micromax Indian Aces when the travelling tennis show hit New Delhi, but then injury struck, and the IPTL tweeted: “We regret to announce that due to health reasons, #RafaelNadal will not be playing!”
The disappointment in India was short-lived, though. A player who had not even appeared in the original draft would save the day: “Make way for the newest #IndianAce! Watch @rogerfederer create history at #IPTL”
A surprise? Well yes, based on the schedule Federer had already played and the one he was planning—an ambitious programme by any measure, and all the more so for a 33-year-old who had become the father of a second set of twins just five months before.
Since falling in the fourth round of 2014’s French Open, he had won Halle, reached the finals of Wimbledon and Toronto, won Cincinnati and made the finals of the US Open. He had slotted in the latest two wins out of the seven that would culminate in Davis Cup victory, and would go on to win the Shanghai Masters and Basel, reach the quarters in Paris, and remain unbeaten through to the unplayed final of the World Tour Finals.
Federer ended 2014 not just with the Davis Cup, more match-wins than anyone else, and within touching distance of reclaiming the No1 ranking, but finally returning home to play one more event, “The Match for Africa 2” for his Foundation with Stan Wawrinka.
In the blink of an eye, though, Federer was off again, first to defend his Brisbane title, then to Sydney to trial another fast-tennis format against old adversary Lleyton Hewitt, and so back to Melbourne, where he had dropped his family on the way to Sydney, to play the Australian Open.
In a rare departure from the norm, he lost in the third round, though against the backdrop of those previous six months, perhaps it was not wholly surprising. And as the ‘glass-half-full’ Swiss said to his team afterwards, all the more time for a holiday.
That transition from 2014 to 2015 revealed many of the keys to the apparently effortless ease with which Federer plays tennis and lives life—and the first key, as illustrated above, is: why waste energy on ‘what ifs?’
The second has always been to ring the changes and keep things fresh. Two years ago, he started the new season with Stefan Edberg and a bigger racket to spice up his game and develop his attacking tennis.
This time last year, he changed his schedule: Rather than holiday at the end of the season, he would vacation after the first Grand Slam. He explained it thus: “The off season didn’t feel like an off season, to be quite honest. I only had eight days off, went back to practice, I went to India, went back to practice [in Dubai]. Went to Switzerland; played a charity match there with Stan; had Christmas at home; then came back to Dubai, practised with [David] Goffin and then came [to Australia]. So it was a bit of everything: bit of exho, bit of practice, bit of relaxation, and then right away Brisbane. So basically my year-end comes after the Australian Open.”
The year’s schedule continued to spring surprises: Out went the Miami and Montreal Masters, in came the newest venue on the tour, Istanbul—for the sheer pleasure of seeing new places.
Talking in Dubai soon after announcing the plan, he elaborated on the wanderlust that many on the tour find a huge challenge but that Federer and his burgeoning family have always embraced.
I don’t like to mention my age, but I think I know what I’m doing
“A week in a tennis player’s life is a big deal so that’s why I decided to cut the hard court season a bit shorter, and give myself a bit more clay, and honestly I always wanted to go to Turkey and play in Istanbul. I’ve heard unbelievable things about the city. So I was like, OK, that’s my trade off.
“I think sometimes people don’t understand how nice it is and refreshing it is to go to a place maybe for the first time or for the first time in 10 years like Stan did in Rotterdam. People forget… how many times can you play Miami or Rome? Eventually you just need a change, and freshen up your schedule a little bit.”
Within hours of touching down in Turkey, he was Tweeting photos from the Bosphorus, and telling the press: “As a world citizen I travel many different cities and countries. I have always heard of Istanbul and here I am now. I hope I’ll stay till the end of the week.” He did: He won the title.
Fast forward to this year’s IPTL, and there is Federer on the roster again. By 2014 standards, of course, his ‘off season’ has looked a walk in the park: No Davis Cup, no charity match, and no Fast4 in Sydney. So rather than making one stop on the IPTL tour, he is making three. He arrives in New Delhi this weekend for a highly-anticipated face-off against Nadal, returns to Dubai to play the home tie with the UAE Royals, then ticks off a fresh stop on the Federer map, Singapore.
I asked him in Basel about his reasons for playing this out-of-season event.
“It’s fun… a fun thing to do in the off season. Really enjoyed it last year, we had a blast, great team, great atmosphere. First time to play India, so happy to return there. Dubai is easy as I’m there. Singapore? Never been there, so that was the idea for doing three: I’m looking forward to it, I must tell you!”
So what can we expect in the New Year? Federer has already managed to stem the retirement question and refresh his schedule with the news that he is adding Stuttgart to his grass season in the week following the French Open—for at least two years.
As he has a lifetime contract with Halle, and loves Wimbledon perhaps more than all the Grand Slams, that commits him to five weeks of competition out of six. Add in the Rio Olympics between Toronto and Cincinnati, and there is precious little wriggle room—an issue that went to the top of the agenda in his post-World Tour Finals press conference.
“I thought about it. So obviously I’m confident about my scheduling, especially at 34 years old. I don’t like to mention my age, but I think I know what I’m doing— [smiling] I know you don’t mean it that way.
“I have my plan that’s set for the year. I know exactly what I’m doing. I was in the mood to play more grass court tennis. If I feel that way, that’s what I should be doing. We’ll see what I do before Rio exactly, but it’s not my number one goal necessarily. Wimbledon is a big one: other tournaments, too. Rio is part of that.”
He concluded: “The rest of the tournaments I just really enjoy playing, I like to defend my titles, really love going back [to places where] there’s great meaning to me. I’m going to set up my schedule in a way that I’ll be ready for the most important tournaments for me personally.”
One of those is a return to Rotterdam—a switch indoors between Australia and Dubai. As for the rest, fans and fellow players will have to wait and see.
He has already announced the arrival of a new coach in the shape of old friend Ivan Ljubicic—a pinch of something fresh to the fizzing Stefan Edberg cocktail that lit up the last two years. And how many events will he squeeze into his Rio trip? Rumours abound about a tie-up with Martina Hingis in mixed doubles as well as playing the singles and men’s doubles.
But if keeping the tennis world on its toes keeps Federer on his toes too, long may it last.
For a resume of the IPTL format, rules and participants, see Federer, Murray, Williams and Sharapova back to prove IPTL is no one-hit wonder.
Federer plays Nadal this Saturday.