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Evergreen Federer still has plenty to achieve

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Jonathan Overend | 21:29 UK time, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

On the face of it, there appears nothing Roger Federer lacks.

The world number one has 16 major titles, the career Grand Slam, more than $50m in career prize money and the seductive-yet-subjective label, applied by many former champions, as the best player of all time.

He is embracing family life with wife, Mirka, and twin daughters, Myla and Charlene, who are seasoned international travellers at nine months old.

Certainly, he is all smiles as we meet in a first-floor room at the Caja Magica in Madrid, completely free of entourage, his white tracksuit top and black baseball cap boasting the now familiar "RF" logo.

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He has achieved so much in such a relatively short space of time (he is still only 28) it is sometimes easy to assume he has nothing left to shoot for.

Far from it. Despite some unexpected defeats recently, these are wildly exciting times for Federer as he plots the next phase of his career.

Retirement doesn't even cross his mind.

"No it doesn't and I don't think it should," he tells me in an exclusive interview for BBC Sport. "It's just not something I'm even in the mood to think about because I want to enjoy my time as a player and not talk for years about how I'm going to retire or when I'm going to retire.

"That's why I told the press a few years ago that I'm definitely going to play until the 2012 Olympics, just to give them some sort of timeline. Now people think I'm going to retire at the 2012 Olympics - which is not true! Even though you never know, it depends on your body, but I would like to play beyond that so we'll see how it goes."

Since winning the Australian Open, Federer has suffered with a lung infection and lost to Tomas Berdych, Marcos Baghdatis, Ernests Gulbis and Albert Montanes.

But I detect a definite twinkle beneath those magnificently bushy eyebrows of his as he tells me: "I'm sure my best tennis is just around the corner, I've just got to keep believing. It's a lot of fun right now and I obviously want to do this as long as possible."

Roger Federer Federer will defend his French Open title at the end of the month. Picture AFP

And why not? There are records to chase, prizes to be won and Federer has several diary dates ringed in red ink.

On Monday, 14 June, seven days before the start of Wimbledon, he should overtake Pete Sampras as the longest-serving world number one in rankings history.

Sampras held the top spot for a total of 286 weeks (followed by Lendl on 270 and Connors on 268) but Federer will move ahead on to to 287 weeks, unless he has an appalling French Open.

On Sunday, 19 September, Switzerland should be back in the World Group of the Davis Cup - they have been drawn against Kazakhstan in the play-offs - and Federer will consider whether the time is right to commit to the competition in 2011.

He desperately wants to win the event one day and needs Stan Wawrinka as an able number two, but like Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal and others, he chooses his matches carefully to fit around his personal schedule.

Then, of course, there is the aforementioned business in the summer of 2012.

Having won Olympic doubles gold in Beijing and celebrated more wildly than at any time in his career, Federer now dreams of the day he stands on Wimbledon's Centre Court with a singles gold medal around his neck. He will take some stopping.

Twelve months ago, Federer arrived in Spain with a bad back and an eight-month title drought. Then, in the space of three months, his life changed forever as he mopped up in Madrid, Roland Garros and Wimbledon before becoming a father for the first time.

What made the difference?

"There were a couple of things in the belly of my wife's stomach!" he chuckles. "I think that definitely got the ball rolling for me, seeing how well she was doing. That was inspiring for me, seeing her so happy and excited.

"Shortly after losing in the semis of Rome, I went to practice even more, felt great and said 'you know, I think I'm ready to win the Madrid tournament'. I beat Soderling, Blake, Roddick, Del Potro and Nadal. From then I never looked back. I definitely got a bit lucky at times in Paris but it felt like destiny.

"Looking back now, one year ago I didn't have two daughters, I didn't have three more slams and one more slam final. It's quite amazing what has happened in the last year."

He will be in the United Kingdom twice this year. He defends his Wimbledon title in the summer and then plays the season-closing Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in November.

"I'm very excited be going back there. I'm sure it's going to be another wonderful week with the best players competing for the ultimate prize in tennis," says Federer, with PR perfection.

Before we part, there is one question I have been meaning to ask him for many years. It relates to the way his mind works during a rally: How many strokes ahead does he think when he is constructing a point?

"Of course, you know the strengths and weaknesses of your own game, strengths and weaknesses of your opponent's game so you can prepare a point by saying 'OK, I'm going to serve to his backhand and normally the chances are...'

(This is going to get fascinating, you can just tell)

"... and then you put it in per cent and say 'it's probably going to come back to my backhand' and you start to rally like this and then the chances are... But you can't do it before every point. If it doesn't happen the way you thought, you get surprised.

"You have to expect the unexpected in tennis because every opponent is different, there's the lucky shot - the frame, the bounce, the net cord - the elements of the wind, the sun.

"So sometimes it's better to let it go and play shot for shot and just read the situation... compress it all down to the next shot of the next point. When it goes well, you don't ask yourself too many questions. When it goes badly, that's when you start to think too much and that's when it gets complicated."

Phew. How many other sporting superstars would actually take the time to deconstruct their sport like this? A rare pleasure, as always.

And with that our interview concludes. A Croatian TV crew is ushered into the room for the next media instalment.

"Hello," he smiles greeting the pair. "I'm Roger."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    He's that good he doesn't even get a number? Wow.

    "World number Roger Federer says he still has plenty to achieve "

  • Comment number 2.

    Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all time. Supremely talented, very smooth style, great competitor, exceedingly consistent (22 semifinal appearances and slightly less final appearance in Slams, very few injuries.Reslience in oodles, came back from a down when he had been written off to win three more slams. Great personality, courteous. What more can one ask for! He has given tennis fans much, much pleasure with his exploits.

  • Comment number 3.

    Great interview - I'm glad he won't be retiring for a while... we've got five more years to enjoy him before the kids start going to school (and they can't travel with him), right?

    My high opinion of Roger took a big hit when he had that blazer with 15 on it at center court - it seemed awfully pretentious and, given what we'd just seen from Roddick, presumptuous too. As for him being smug and arrogant - yeah, sure he is, more the latter.

    But his arrogance is mostly supreme confidence, and more importantly, he's earned the right to be. Unlike so many other top sportsmen, he manages to remain a gent most of the time. (To the extent that, when he does swear at officials, I'm quite relieved he's still human.) And he's supercommitted to his super-supportive wife - that really impresses me.

    For sure, tennis would be a lot poorer had he never been born. I wouldn't buy his clothes, but I would buy his tennis rackets. And I love that he buys the ball kids pizza at each tournament. (He still does, right?)

    There's still lot left for him to do
    - Grand Slam doubles title (what I admire the Williams sisters for, even if I'm no Serena fan)
    - Olympic singles gold medal (I like that this article mentions that)
    - leading Switzerland to a Davis Cup title (best performance so far: reaching semis in 2003)
    - winning the Hopman Cup (oh wait, he did that with Hingis in 2001)
    - beating an uninjured Rafa at the French Open (though I think poor Rafa now will always be injured somewhat, poor lad)

  • Comment number 4.

    jon
    imho fed is the greatest of all time
    BUT
    if that's what you call deconstruction or thoughtfulness about his sport i suggest you go and have some tennis lessons

  • Comment number 5.

    I cannot believe you have described his eyebrows - "definite twinkle beneath those magnificently bushy eyebrows of his"
    I dont believe you can actually calculate how the whole rally is going to go from the first shot itself. I think you have to take it shot by shot. But i am just a rookie tennis player.

  • Comment number 6.

    Roger alwayes symbole of true calss and act ,
    and am totaly agree with him , now he have another priority , and interest besaide Tennis , he have two kids and wife ,
    despaite all this he was able to win another GS in Aussie this year
    so all his fans we should not pacinc in recent poor perforem for him
    he will rebound and back on right road in RG isa ,
    py the way I'm happy to register on BBC website , I love this Channel so much
    bye

  • Comment number 7.

    A lot of people seem to confuse confidence with arrogance. The "15 blazer episode" seems to have been done to death .. but one more time ... Fed has said he knew nothing about it until the jacket was brought onto court for him to put on. And the 15 was so small, that unless Sue Barker had mentioned it, not sure many people would have even noticed it. Its not as if the jacket had a huge 15 in gold numbers emblazoned on the back like a football shirt! In fact, I thought it was rather understated in view of the fact that he had just broken the Sampras slam record.
    I admire the guy tremendously for the way he conducts himself on court and particularly off court. Tennis has never had such a wonderful ambassador ... I always think he's a great credit to his parents and probably his wife too who, as he has said, "got me from boy to man".
    As long as he has fun playing the game, who should dare ask this legend when he's going to quit. If he can bring as much fun to the court as Fabrice Santoro did when he got to his mid-30's, Fed will be more of a joy to watch than even Fabrice.

  • Comment number 8.

    Great man..Federer! i sincerely pray that he clears out the titles left for the year and then bow out... the ovation is definitely so loud now. Can't imagine Fed dropping off the top spot.

  • Comment number 9.

    Much as I'd like Federer to eclipse Sampras' record for most weeks at No. 1, I don't think it's as easy as avoiding an appalling French Open. Thanks to his (by his standards) 'appalling' form from the Oz up to now, I reckon he needs a final appearance in Madrid and semi final at Roland Garros to be sure of holding off Nadal. It should have been easy but he made it hard for himself with results on the American hard court swing and the start of the clay season.

  • Comment number 10.

    Without a shadown of a doubt also one of the most arrogant sportmen ever. He self proclaimed in an interview just recently he was destined to win FO and that you only need legs, a good forehand and backhand to win on clay. Whether this was a shot at Rafa Nadal remains to be seen. Gone are the days when truely great player batte for every point to win slams. Now you have half decent players in the draw of slam who do not have a game good enough to even play in the great era's of the 90's. The funny part of all this, he has been dominated by his closest rival Rafa Nadal since he first join the tour and that has still not change. Name the greats like Pete Sampras, Borg, Laver, have they ever been dominated by the closest rivals no.

  • Comment number 11.

    @Football_Monk as your username would suggest, you're probably more of a football person than a tennis person. I think it's really rude of you to underestimate his achievements like that.. this man is clearly one of the greatest tennis players of all time if not THE greatest so say what you will about his rivalry with Rafael Nadal but at the end of the day the record books show that he is clearly doing something right. Please don't call him arrogant either, he is one of the most graceful sportsmen ever. "Gone are the days when truely great player batte for every point to win slams" - thats absolutely ridiculous.. how would Roger have so many slams if he didn't put his all in every time?????? Please don't be ignorant to his achievements.

  • Comment number 12.

    all profi athletes can learn from federer in victory and defeat...

  • Comment number 13.

    I dont think this interview really tells us a great deal. Federer is bound to say hes motivated to the press. The proof of the pudding is in his performances on court and since the Australian Open he has played like a man who doesnt give a damn.

    Its only this week in Madrid where has started to look like getting his head down and playing - coincidentally 2 weeks before the next major.

    I expect Roger to have another post Wimbledon sojourn before deciding to get some practice in a week or two before the US Open. Post US Open you can expect a 4 month holiday with a bit of a light hit around at the 02 thrown in in November.

    This is what it now comes down to for Federer. He isnt at all motivated by any tournament other than the slams. He is only prepared to put any effort into a tournament if there is a slam around the corner.

    I will contradict myself slightly now by saying that i am a great fan of Federer and recognise him as the best player ever and possibly the best there ever will be - but the slams are what it now comes down to. Its sad in a way but undoubtedly true. And when he starts to struggle to get the motivation to go down to Australia in January - which in the next year or two i believe he will do - then you'll know that the motivation is ebbing away year by year.

  • Comment number 14.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 15.

    What made the difference and enabled Federer to win Madrid, Roland Garros and Wimbledon last year? Isn't it obvious? Rafa Nadal's knees, of course. Nadal was on course to wipe the floor with Federer after totally destroying him tennis-wise and emotionally at the 2009 Australian Open. I like and admire Federer but can we have a reality check here - if it hadn't been for Nadal's injury I couldn't see anyone stopping him. Nadal is in a different league spirit-wise, he's a street-fighter whereas Roger is a class act but lacking Rafa's grit. When the knives are drawn Federer is second best to Nadal.

  • Comment number 16.

    Jonathan Overend writes:"Twelve months ago, Federer arrived in Spain with a bad back and an eight-month title drought. Then, in the space of three months, his life changed forever as he mopped up in Madrid, Roland Garros and Wimbledon before becoming a father for the first time.

    What made the difference?"

    I have a three word answer: Nadal's knee injury.

  • Comment number 17.

    One big thing that Roger can still aim for - this year actually - is the calendar year slam. It's possible.

    On the Fed v Nad comparison, Rafa is better on clay and Roger is better on all other surfaces. He has a superior all round game.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    Nadal's game is partly based on pushing his body and upper and lower limbs to the limit, and so perhaps it isn't a surprise that he can and does breakdown.

    The wear and tear on his body is enormous, and this of itself is inherently riskier than Fed's own approach.


    I can see that some of you have advanced the "what if" Amendment, as in "What if Nadal hadn't been injured..."


    My answer to the "What-if" crowd, is this;

    Nadal could very possibly retire before Federer, because Nadal does not
    play within the limits of his physical capabilities all of the time.



    Then...
    What will you "what-if" merchants be saying at that point, in say 2013...


    "What-if" Nadal hadn't pushed himself too hard earlier on in his career, he'd be playing into his late 20's, and winning a few more Slams in the process....?

    I suspect not.


    I'll finish by saying that physiological underpin performance and players ability to continue to play on a regular basis.

    Therefore let's not let the "Homer Simpson's" on this thread advance the argument that we should imagine Nadal's best set ever, and compare it to Federer's best set ever, and then decide (somehow) which player is "best." (for goodness sake)

  • Comment number 20.

    A mouth watering start for the european tennis season. I have not seen Nadal play for a while - I hope he has recovered enough to play his cavalier tennis.

    Federer is still supremely fit any weakness or hesitation on Nadal's part and he stands a chance even on clay.

    Just love watching these two play.

    If I remember rightly the Madrid awards ceremony last year was distinctly pythonesque ....

  • Comment number 21.

    To all those people that keep referring to Roger Federer as the Greatest
    player ever, term which's been applied to other players as well, I have to say that, I was blessed to have seen Rod Laver at his best, and for my
    money, he'll be the best

  • Comment number 22.

    It's a bit futile to call someone the greatest ever since every epoque is unique with different conditions etc. However, I would like to remind people that Bjorn Borg retired at 26 with 11 slams and didn't compete in the Australian Open.Laver was ineligible to play in the slams for 6 years after turning professional.Who knows how many titles they missed out on.If Nadal stays fit, who knows how many slams he will rack up.

  • Comment number 23.

    You know it always surprises how interested people can be in tennis - basically I think people should look at John Beattie's blog on rugby instead. Just a suggestion.

  • Comment number 24.

    Treborobert, Nadal had no knee injury whatsoever when he was beaten last year by Federer in Madrid and by Söderlng in Paris. He was perfectly fit - and upbeat about his chances - in the second and third rounds of the French Open (he had a bye in the first). Nadal's knee injury - the details of which have never been made clear - was mentioned for the first time several days AFTER he had been soundly beaten by Söderlng in the fourth round at RG. No-one. not even Nadal himself, had noticed or mentioned the slightest physical problem before that. Nadal wore no knee strapping in Madrid or Paris in 2009 either.

    It is absurd to say that Federer's success has anything to do with Nadal's knees. This year will prove that.

  • Comment number 25.

    Roger has the ability to achieve so much more than he already has, and an Olympic Gold in singles is one of them. The sheer artistry of his game combined with his agility and skills, plus his prudent selection of playing schedule will stand him in good stead for a long time.

  • Comment number 26.

    Hello Treborobert
    Like the stir you created and the defense it drew. I enjoy this kind of ribbing among sports fans. Roger just loves the game he will play on, dreaming how he can tinker around to find a crack in Rafas game to maybe sneak another slam victory against him once in a while. Meanwhile the Rafa looks as terrifying as he ever has been this year. He looks like he eats, sleeps and shits clay. He has those snorting, amazingly severe eyebrows when he is onto the ball like he wants to murder it. He and the Fed are two different species or races. Thinking this relieves me. I can enjoy them, each one for their own qualities. I don´t care who is best, so long as they keep drawing the best out of each other.

 

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