Roger Federer on old guys, new guys and good guys ahead of 14th ATP World Tour Finals
Roger Federer is pitching himself against the best of the best in London for a remarkable 14th consecutive time
Roger Federer may not be the world number one by a considerable points margin. He does not even arrive in London for this year’s ATP World Tour Finals as number two.
But even though Federer has been drawn into the same pool as the man who has reached every final this year since winning the Australian Open—Djokovic has won three Majors and six Masters titles this season—many still regard the mighty Swiss as a real contender for the title here.
And with good reason.
Federer is playing the prestigious tennis finale, pitching himself against the best of the best, for a remarkable 14th consecutive time.
He has won more Final titles, six of them, more Final matches, 48, and more prize-money, a cool $13 million, than anyone else.
He has won those titles against six different players—spanning the tennis generations via the likes of Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and Rafael Nadal—and in three different continents: Houston USA, Shanghai China and, of course, London. Just once in 13 qualifications has he failed to get beyond the Round Robin stage, the year he played with a back injury in 2008.
It’s a formidable record of winning, durability and longevity.
Now, though, the 34-year-old is keen to put memories of last year’s title tilt behind him. For it was a bitter-sweet tournament during which the resurgent Swiss, back from a low of No8 to be in contention to reclaim the No1 ranking by the end of 2014, reached the semi-finals without dropping a set. Indeed he swept through two of his matches for the loss of just six games.
He was then one half of perhaps the finest match of the tournament, against friend and compatriot Stan Wawrinka, a pulsating two and three-quarter hours that saw Federer fight back from a set down, via four match-points, to win 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(6).
But the match took its toll: He tweaked his back in the closing stages, and was forced to pull out of the highly-anticipated final against Djokovic.
If anything, that disappointment has sharpened his appetite, however, though his task in reaching the semis, let alone the final, is clearly a tough one.
He arrived in London early—helped by an early loss at the Paris Masters. Not that his indoor prowess is in doubt: He won his home Swiss Indoors in Basel, beating Nadal in the final, the week before. And after a few days on the hard courts of Queen’s, he finally got onto the O2’s famous Centre Court Friday today.
Soon after, he was into press, and talking again of his motivation for one of his favourite events of the year.
“I haven’t had issues getting motivated. Whether flying to Shanghai, Houston, or London at the end of the season, I look forward to it. It’s always a priority for me, and because it’s a priority, I play better here.
“Then maybe indoors has helped my game.”
Federer has won 22 indoor tournaments, including the very first of his 88 titles in Milan in 2001: “It’s where I first made my points on the tour. And then I think the idea of playing fellow top-10 players gets me going. Really excited.
“So I don’t feel like, ‘Whoa, I made it to the World Tour Finals’ and that’s it. I don’t want to lose in three crushing defeats: that would be a terrible finish. So I’ll try everything to make that not happen again this year.”
And while Djokovic remains the man to beat for every one his fellow rivals, Federer has been the one to enjoy the most success against the Serb this year: Two victories among six meetings, finals every one.
Federer, then, continues to challenge the best players at the highest level. But he is one of four over-30s in the elite eight, and Djokovic, Andy Murray and Nadal are all within 18 months of the same milestone. Is Federer concerned about who will take the place of what is proving to be one of the finest eras in men’s tennis?
“No, I don’t worry because obviously we are going through a phase now where there is a lot of domination either by one player or a group, which I think is quite interesting for a lot of the fans. But then of course, if you sprinkle some new stories in, that would be nice.
“I believe the next five years are definitely secure, and we’ll see a lot of stuff can happen. Of course the last couple of generations we’ve seen have not been as strong as the Rafa generation. As a teenager—a Becker, a Chang—we know all those guys who were unbelievably strong when they were young. We’ve missed those who used to rocket through the rankings and win Slams at a young age.
“So I hope given time they will mature, improve and also win Slams eventually—because someone will, someone has to be No1, so there’s always going to be a new story down the road—and I think there will be a transition period.
“It all depends how you spin it. You can see it as negative or positive. I see it as a good thing. There will be a changing of the guard eventually.”
From there, just as last year, he threw his weight behind more frequent and stringent drug testing: “Just more testing across the board. Whenever you make the quarters, of any tournament in my opinion, just know you will be tested. That would be very clear and simple. And if you want to keep the tests longer, I’m all for it… years, I’m talking about… that’s how you scare off people too.”
He talked of the retirement of old friends, in particular the same-age Lleyton Hewitt: “I learned a lot from him, from his fighting spirit, his work ethic, how it’s done at a young age—something I couldn’t quite comprehend how he’s so good so early. He showed us the way, that’s why his legacy’s incredible… sad to see him go, but like that he’s doing it on his terms.”
And he talked of the arrival of new names at the top table, in this case new doubles No1 Marcelo Melo: “Clearly caught the attention of everyone. Doesn’t go unnoticed, especially after the Bryans’ dominance. Very impressive… He’s a nice guy, everyone speaks very highly of him, and it’s nice to see good guys succeed.”
Indeed, and with a 13th ATP Fans’ Favourite Award and 11th ATP Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award in the bag before he even starts his campaign in London for a 14th time, they seem appropriate words for Federer himself.