• The plan is to play again next year.
• Being close to winning makes me believe I can keep going, I can win again.
• I’m very proud that at 37 I’m still so competitive and so happy playing tennis.
• Yes, you can see it as a very, very positive season.
He had just lost in the semi-finals to a man 16 years his junior, Alexander Zverev, though that should not have been as much of a shock as many suggested.
The tall, talented young German reached No3 last year, age 20, was playing at the Nitto ATP Finals for the second straight year, had three Masters titles, and a tally of eight titles since the start of last year.
He also arrived in London with more match-wins than any of his peers, and two victories over Federer in their previous five matches. And any man who out-serves John Isner, as Zverev did in their round-robin contest, is a dangerous man. To prove the point, he followed victory over Federer with victory over Novak Djokovic to claim the biggest title of his career.
But aside from the age-gap between Federer and the eventual champion, the Swiss star’s form had been more wayward in the last six months of 2019 than most have come to expect.
Perhaps his up-and-down performances were the result of 37 years beginning to bite, or perhaps it was the emotional pressure of seeing his 100th title continue to elude him. And then, as column inches of copy repeatedly reminded him before and during the 2018 finale, he had not won the tournament since 2011—the year he turned 30.
Federer, of course, had faced age and retirement questions with growing persistence as the gap between ‘big’ titles expanded. His last Major? 2012. Last time at No1? Also 2012. So when back injury blighted 2013—he won only in Halle—that was surely the last straw. When he had knee surgery in 2016, his career was as good as over.
Each time he has confounded expectations. After 2013, he went on to win 73 matches and five titles—two of them Masters—in 2014. He followed 2016 with a 52-5 season and seven titles, including his first two Majors in five years and three more Masters.
He won his 20th Major at the start of this year, and became the oldest ever No1 with the title in Rotterdam. That he ‘only’ went on to accumulate 48-9 matches (plus the non-tour Hopman Cup and Laver Cup) and four titles meant that almost every press conference sought his own assessment of his season.
So was 2018 so bad? Why not compare it with the year he last won at the O2, the year he turned 30, 2011? Back then, he did not win a title between Doha in January and Basel in October, ended the season with four titles, but no Major, and reached only two further finals. He began the year at No2 and ended it at No3.
This year, he also won four titles—plus the Hopman Cup—including a Major, and reached three more finals, two at Masters level. He began the year at No2 and ended at No3—the difference being that, along the way, he rose to No1, the oldest ever to do so.
So within such a context, here is how he responded to those questions about this year, next year, and No100.
“I mean, [Pete] Sampras once said, ‘If you win a Slam, it’s a good season. So started great. I played super well in Australia again. So obviously, I can’t wait to go back there in a couple of months.”
“That my season was never going to be exactly like last year, I knew that going in.”
“I’m a little bit disappointed [here] because I believe I was close. Being close makes me believe I can keep going, I can win again. That’s uplifting in some ways. But because I know I could have won, I’m also disappointed. Overall, I’m happy how the season went. There’s many positives, to be quite honest.”
“I must tell you I’m very proud that at 37 I’m still so competitive and so happy playing tennis. From that standpoint, as disappointed as I might be about this match, if I take a step back, I’m actually very happy about the season.”
“It’s been an historic season in some ways. Got back to world No1. For me, that was a huge moment in my life, to be honest, in my career, because I never thought I would get there again.”
“Five years ago, where was I? I was probably fighting with back pain, not sure if I was ever going to figure that back pain out again because I had it for probably four or five months of the season. It really rocked my tennis for a bit… Here I am, having actually a pretty good season physically, won another Slam, got back to world No1. So, yes, you can see it as a very, very positive season. That’s probably how I will look back on it once on vacation.”
“With the experience I have, and my team, I think we’re eager to see what we’re going to work on exactly. Also, what’s the decision on the clay, then taking the decision in next few weeks on that.
“So definitely the plan is to play again next year, and come up with a good schedule that suits my family, suits Mirka, me. That’s why it’s good that we have time now. Yeah, looking forward to that process. I like taking decisions, so it’s all good.”
“I’m still not thinking of No100. I won’t let that get in my head [and] make me go crazy, because it should be something I’m excited about and not something I should feel extra pressure.”
“I don’t need it. [Smiling] I will breathe air also if I don’t [get it].”
“If I’d have known last year that this would by my season, I would have taken it. If this was my season in the year I was injured, I would have taken it right away. Same four or five years ago too.
“I’m very happy I won a Slam and very happy I played as well as I did throughout the season. Maybe Wimbledon and the US Open didn’t go the way I was hoping, but they were maybe the only disappointments this season… I won a bunch of tournaments again, played a great Australian Open, won my home tournament in Basel, won the Laver Cup, played well at the Hopman Cup, and stayed injury free for most of the year. So, I’m actually very happy with the season.”
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge