Roger Federer: Yin and yang and daring to dream
It has been yin and yang, and a question of balance for Roger Federer in the wake of his Australian Open triumph
As casual as you like, this year’s Australian Open champion Roger Federer, rather more slender than he looks in match-play and rather more fun than his on-court persona suggests, ambled through the elegant lounge atop the players’ hotel in Dubai and into the white leather armchair.
Now 35, Federer is an old hand at facing the media—he has, after all, won 18 Grand Slams among his tally of 89 titles—and entirely at ease in this environment. He is the lion here, not the one in the lion’s den, a man who exudes confidence, a man for whom, as he has often repeated, life is lived as ‘a glass half full’.
Here at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships he does, of course, have every right to feel confident, having won seven titles from nine finals. And he is at home in more ways than one. Federer lives and trains for much of the year in Dubai, where the climate, the privacy, and the facilities have served him well.
However, these days he will, as often as the gruelling tennis calendar will allow, seek out his bespoke Geneva home in his beloved Switzerland. You can take the boy out of the mountains but you can’t take the mountains out of the boy. In fact, Federer’s post-Australian victory was celebrated anew back in the Swiss Alps, where he tweeted a steady stream of photos of himself, knee deep in snow, with the replica trophy and a clear message: “Still on cloud nine!”
The first hint of yin and yang, perhaps; Dubai and Geneva could not be more different, but then the same may be said of the man and his tennis.
Witness the almost zen-like on-court calm of Federer the professional, a picture of control and serenity that also happens to be the perfect foil to his expressive and creative tennis.
Compare the same serious demeanour, the one that allows little room for smiles or distraction, with the one that whoops and jumps with joy in victory, and more often than not ends in tears.
All these facets were on show in Australia as he worked his way through a tough draw with a No17 seeding that was the result of a six-month absence and a season of only seven tournaments following knee surgery. He put the story into context.
“Such a tough year last year, on so many levels, playing basically one healthy tournament in Australia. The rest—I was sick at Brisbane or injured or not well or hurt the rest of the season so to come back this way could not have been any better.
“It was totally surprising. I look back when I was here at the end of December, and asked about my chances in Australia, and I was like, ‘ooohh, I don’t know’! So it came as a huge surprise, with some of the strongest moments I’ve ever felt as a tennis player.
“Thankfully it’s taking a long time just to understand everything that happened. It was nice not having a tournament to play right away, so my last shot was still my forehand cross court, it’s still match point… so I’m still riding the wave.”
It had been almost five years since Federer’s previous Grand Slam win, though as he was quick to point out, the interim years had been far from fallow. He reached three Grand Slam finals, and last year made the semis of the only two Majors he was able to play. He also reached three World Tour Finals title bouts, got his hands on the Davis Cup, won Olympic silver, and had a shot at regaining the No1 ranking. Along the way, he also became the father of another set of twins.
Yin and yang and a question of balance, as the aftermath of the Australian Open demonstrated: “I got back to hotel at 2.45 and then we partied til 6.30. Everyone was in such a good mood. You can imagine, they’d already been partying for three hours so the atmosphere was rather ‘relaxed’! And when I got home, it wasn’t just ‘Let’s sneak into bed,’ it was actually playing with the kids, showing them the trophy, being dad again.”
That healthy sense of balance underpins the whole package. For example, had he, since knee surgery, become more cautious about what he does away from the tennis court?
“Not really. I’ve always been somewhat careful. I don’t need crazy things away from the game. Having tennis is excitement, and then my personal family life is plenty. I don’t need to get more thrill away from it to be perfectly honest.
“I wanted to go skiing last year after Australia but that didn’t work out because of knee surgery. I definitely won’t ski now until the end of my career, but that’s fine. I’m happy taking the kids to the ski lift and watch them improve: that’s the most I can do now. I have to be careful, I understand that. But after I retire, I’m still going to be so young I can do so many more things.”
‘After retirement’ could be a few years away, though. Federer has signed up to play his home tournament in Basel until 2019—when he will be 38—but he is not too ‘glass half full’ to realise that something will have to change. That means making strategic decisions in his game and schedule.
He has been showcasing aggressive, forward-moving, short-point tactics already: It is no accident that he took on serve-and-volley maestro Stefan Edberg as his coach a few years back.
Now there could be some significant changes to his schedule, too.
“I know the French Open is going to be hard because I would have to put in so much work in the clay court season to be perfectly ready, and even then there’s no guarantee. So I have to ask myself how much am I going to put into it. I think at Wimbledon and the US Open, I always have chances as long as I’m healthy… Clearly the goal will be Wimbledon, where I have the best chance.
“So dare to dream, sure: why not? One at a time. This has been so amazing: like I said, riding the wave.”
Before all the what-ifs, of course, there is the immediate job in hand in Dubai, where Federer could win a 90th career title.
“In the mind I’m fresh again, being in the Swiss mountains was really good energy for me, being with the family. I know the first round is tough, and I don’t see myself as the favourite here, even though I have a great track record. It all starts from zero.”
Federer takes on Benoit Paire at 7pm local time Monday.