Federer’s right-hand-man Luthi has no doubts: ‘It’s incredible how positive and inspired he is’
Severin Luthi on Roger Federer: 'It’s astonishing how motivated he already is'
After the storm, now comes the calm voice of reason in the shape of Roger Federer’s long-time friend and coach, Severin Luthi.
Two days after the 17-time Grand Slam champion announced to a stunned tennis community that he would play no further part in the 2016 season, Luthi gave an interview to Rene Stauffer for the Swiss national newspaper, Tages-Anzeiger.
His words have certainly poured oil on the troubled waters that rippled outwards from Federer’s Facebook announcement, even though the Swiss star was at pains to conclude, “I am as motivated as ever and plan to put all my energy towards coming back strong, healthy and in shape to play attacking tennis in 2017.”
Stauffer’s long history of reporting on Switzerland’s favourite son opened the way for some incisive and revealing questioning, and for some characteristically matter-of-fact replies from Luthi.
Straight in at the deep end, then, he confirmed that Federer had not even been on a practice court since Wimbledon, where a fall in latter stages of his semi-final against Milos Raonic clearly shook the Swiss.
Luthi admitted: “After Wimbledon we hoped that he would be able to play soon again. But we haven’t been on the practice court since then. We discussed a lot and got advice. You just can’t live from your reserves the whole time.
“Every player has certain tournaments that he is focused on and for which he is willing to do a bit more. If Wimbledon didn’t mean so much to him, he would probably have skipped it. But you see, you can’t do that the whole time. When you use too much credit you can even shorten your career.”
And Federer has been adamant at every turn of his career that he intends to play the long game, to work his life, his schedule, and his training towards extending his career as long as possible. As Luthi explained:
“One of Roger’s and Pierre’s [Paganini] strengths is that the planning has always been long-term. The success proves them right.”
Even before London 2012, Federer’s fourth appearance at the Olympics, he kept alive the possibility of playing in Rio 2016, though to plenty of raised eyebrows.
But since winning silver in the London Games—a month after winning his 17th Major on the same grass—he reclaimed the No1 ranking, reached the semi-finals of eight more Grand Slams, and advanced to the finals three times. Three more times he reached the final of the World Tour Finals, and at the end of 2014, he overcame a back injury to join Stan Wawrinka and captain Luthi in winning Switzerland’s first Davis Cup.
He was set fair, then, to play the Olympics while also targeting success at Wimbledon. And Luthi confirmed that missing Rio was perhaps Federer’s toughest decision in a year that had already seen him miss the French Open among several other tournaments after surgery to his knee at the end of January and a recurrence of his chronic back problem.
Of course, it is often the case that a physical problem in one part of the body can exacerbate weaknesses elsewhere, and Luthi believes this has been the case.
“In hindsight, the back has something to do with the knee. The knee was also the main problem during Paris. When you can’t properly move and practise after surgery, you strain your body maybe differently. You are losing muscle mass very fast after a knee injury and that probably also affects your back.
“Fortunately [Roger] doesn’t need surgery and that’s already important. He wants to correct his imbalance with a build-up of strength to get back to the point where he can return at 100 per cent. That wouldn’t be possible now.”
Federer’s last-minute withdrawal from the Olympics is naturally a blow for the man himself: “He would have loved to be there, of course it hurts him.”
But it also has implications for the Swiss team. He was scheduled to play doubles with Wawrinka in the gold-winning partnership from Beijing. There was also the possibility of joining up Martina Hingis, who is enjoying a hugely successful second career in both women’s and mixed doubles.
However, Wawrinka, who was playing in Toronto at the Rogers Cup when Federer’s announcement became public, was more concerned about the wellbeing of his friend and compatriot than the Olympics.
“I think everybody is really sad, but it is probably more difficult for him. He’s going to be out of competition, and he’s had a tough year already. I just wish him to be ready and fit next season. We are going to miss him on the tour—the players, the tournaments, and especially at the [World Tour] Finals. As for the Rio doubles, it was a tough announcement for me but sad for him.
“But even before I wasn’t 100 per cent sure that I was playing with Roger in the doubles… I don’t think I’m going to try to play doubles [or mixed doubles] anyway. I’m not as young anymore. It’s a tough summer, it’s a tough schedule. I really want to go there and try to do everything possible for the singles.”
Luthi will be in Rio in his role as Swiss tennis captain, but there is no doubt he will also remain in close touch with the man he has supported for almost a decade and through assorted high-profile coaches such as Paul Annacone and Stefan Edberg.
There has clearly always been huge respect between all of them, but the quiet strength and dedication of Luthi has been an underpinning constant. No wonder Federer is always the first to remind the world of his key role in the team, and in return, Luthi has nothing but positives about one of the most positive ‘glass half full’ men on the tour.
“The great thing with [Roger] is that he does everything with the whole heart. I guess there hasn’t been one like him. For me, though, it is very impressive how soon he can switch on, look ahead and say: ‘The situation is like it is and now we are making the best of it.’ It’s astonishing how motivated he already is to do this build-up. It’s incredible how positive and inspired he is.”
Federer’s first scheduled stop in 2017 is the Hopman Cup in Perth, beginning 1 January.
The full interview by Rene Stauffer can be read here.
With additional credit to Doris Kording for the translation.