In an exclusive interview, Swiss tennis star Roger Federer talks about aging, stage fright, and returning to No. 1.
After losing to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, Roger Federer took advantage of his time off to vacation with his wife and twin daughters. But just as quick, the Swiss tennis star was back on the court, at the Dubai Championships. No better time than the heart of the winter back in his native Switzerland to catch up with a tennis star for an exclusive interview.
After your defeat in Melbourne against Djokovic, there was talk of a changing of the guard in tennis, talk of a break, like the end of the reign of Federer and Nadal. What kind of break was there supposed to have been? Novak Djokovic, who won the Australian open, is a respected tennis pro, and has been for some years. There is always some interplay among the top three or four players, but we haven't seen anything recently that could be described as a turning point. I can't describe something that doesn't exist. We also don't have any prodigies that are coming out of nowhere. There are four or five top players in the series, and none of them is a clear frontrunner.
In the headlines, only the top four players get most of the attention. The rest are almost exclusively seen as accessories. There is actually a lot of movement in the rankings behind those top four players - there are many great players, interesting players. But we can't expect to see new faces pushed to the top as soon as they enter the arena. New players need time, even more time than before. Because the tennis circuit now lasts ten and a half months, it's a permanent competition at the highest levels, with no breaks, no easy games, no moments of relaxation. We can't expect miracles from our young players.
The trend seems to be moving away from young superstars who win grand slams in their teens. As we saw with Kim Clijsters, even a 27-year-old mother can make it to number one. In fact, the entire game of tennis has become more competitive and more athletic. To get to the top, you need a lot more staying power than you did before. But there are some new players who are promising, like Milos Raonic from Canada, but they still have a rocky road ahead of them. We can't assess them fairly after only three strong weeks.
You turn 30 in August. How will this affect you, and how has tennis and life on tour changed for you as you have gotten older? Honestly, I don't really feel like I'm about to turn 30. The years go by extremely fast in this business. You don't even notice time passing. Of course, I am very fortunate to have been successful. Success makes things a lot easier. The first years on tour were so much tougher, plagued with self-doubt, questioning myself if I was good enough. When I was younger, it was also much harder to take media criticism. Nowadays, I'm living in a dream.
In Australia, you did not look very devastated when you lost to Djokovic. Why was that? Because I felt that in spite of that one failure, I was, and still am, on the right track. And because I was in top shape physically. There have been tournaments that left me completely exhausted, tired and ready to leave, where I thought after a defeat: Oh dear, how am I going to be able to keep going? But in Melbourne, it was completely different. I'm ready to aim high this year. I plan to win big tournaments this year, and to once again be number one.
What do you consider to be your biggest challenge as a tennis player? To stay healthy, to be fit. I have no insecurities as to what I can or cannot do. I know that I can achieve anything if I'm physically able to do so. Today, I'm much better trained than I was in my younger years. I know what I have to do and how I have to do it. I know my limits, and I know how to balance games, training, and the season. Inexperienced players tend to exceed their limits quickly. If you push yourself too much, you may have a moment of success, but after that you'll be in big trouble.
Do you still get stage fright when you're in a tournament? I get anxious, of course. Always. Before each tournament starts, before any big match. When it becomes routine, you have to stop. Walking into a full stadium still gives me some butterflies. Just like it did on my first day as a pro player.
Do you have a set plan for how long you will continue your career? No, not yet. But I think I'll continue well after the 2012 Olympics. The games in London are an important milestone. But I think that I'll still have some very good years after that.
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