It has been another memorable season for Roger Federer. By his high standards, it might not be up there with 2006 when he posted a 92-5 match record, winning 12 titles in the process, but it is a remarkable effort from someone who is supposed to be reaching the twilight of his career.
It was just a few weeks ago after being defeated in the final of his hometown tournament, the Swiss Indoors in Basel, by Juan Martin Del Potro that some rather hastily wondered once again if we were witnessing the beginning of the end for the great champion.
Federer provided the perfect response with his performances at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. He followed up his impressive win over Andy Murray in the semi-finals by playing his part in a match against Novak Djokovic which produced some of the best tennis seen this year. Federer may have lost but showed he can still compete at the highest level.
As much as players maintain they don’t take any notice of what is in the newspapers, the doubts from some about Federer’s capability to win the biggest titles will not have gone unnoticed within his camp. After his win over Murray in the Wimbledon final this year, you couldn’t help feel that he was just as, if not more satisfied about proving so many wrong people wrong as he was about the records he was breaking in the process.
“I reflect in a nice way,” Federer said as he looked back on 2012. “I think it’s been a fantastic season to be part of. Four different Grand Slam champs. Then having the Olympics, as well, was obviously very unique. I’m very happy I stayed injury-free throughout. That allowed me to basically play a full schedule almost.
“I’m very pleased that I was able to pick up my performance at the end of the season, like I played now this week [in London]. So [it] obviously gives me confidence for next year.”
Ranked No.2, Federer is still right up there and in the mix at any tournament. His astounding record of reaching 34 consecutive grand slam quarter-finals – which is still ongoing – is a testament to his consistency and longevity.
Some still feel to this day that if Federer plays his best tennis, he will win any match against any opponent. That may or may not be the case, but the fact is that these days he does not play his best tennis as regularly as he may once have done.
Having achieved just about everything in the sport and with a wife and two young children to look after, what fuels the motivation to continue playing?
“I think it’s the love for the game, the appreciation I get from the crowds, I guess playing for records from time to time, playing against different types of generations and playing styles,” he said. “The game has evolved sort of over the last, what has it been, 13 years I’ve been on tour, 14 maybe. It’s changed quite a bit ever since.
“I think you need inspiration, motivation from different angles to keep you going because it ain’t that simple just to wake up every morning and go for another travel around the world, another practice, all these other things, another fitness workout, another stretch.
“It’s always nice, but you need to have some success and you need to have the right reasons why you’re doing it. I think I’ve always been able to do that and I really enjoy myself out on the court.”
Competing against Djokovic, Murray and Nadal in what is generally regarded as the strongest ever era in men’s tennis also helps to keep the fire burning. “It’s part of the puzzle that makes me motivated, trying to play against them,” said Federer. “But Novak, Andy and Rafa are not the only guys out there. I’m trying to play against many other guys.
“I love playing against particularly young guys as well just because too many sometimes I’m an idol, which is very strange to me, to be honest. But it is nice seeing them grow, see what the next generation comes up with, what kind of playing style.”
Federer has seen quite a contrast in the playing style from his early days on tour in the late 1990s to now. With fast courts now as rare as an ice cube in the Sahara, serve and volley is near extinction, something which Federer is clearly saddened about.
“It’s only on this type of slow courts that you can defend the way we are all doing right now,” he said. “I think it’s exciting, but no doubt about it, it’s tough. What you don’t want is that you hit 15 great shots and at the end, it ends up in an error.
“So I think sometimes quicker courts do help the cause. I think it would help from time to time to move to something a bit faster. That would help to learn, as well, for many different players, different playing styles, to realize that coming to the net is a good thing, it’s not a bad thing.
“Then again, the tour has to decide, the tournament directors have a big say in it.
“I’ve played on all different speeds. But I think some variety would be nice, some really slow stuff and then some really fast stuff, instead of trying to make everything sort of the same. You sort of protect the top guys really by doing that because you have the best possible chance to have them in the semis at this point, I think.
“But that should be the goal? I’m not sure.”
As the president of the ATP Players Council, Federer has a key role as the elder statesman off the court representing his fellow professionals. He was one of the leading voices in the calls for a longer off-season, which was granted with an extra two weeks from this year onwards.
But with an increasing amount of exhibitions popping up over the next two months, some now question the real motives of the players in wanting more time off. Over the course of the next month, Djokovic plays in Slovakia and Brazil, Murray in Miami and Federer himself will play a four-date South American tour.
“That’s the beauty of an off-season, you’re allowed to do whatever the hell you want,” he countered. “I think that’s what’s nice, instead of having such a congested space where you can just barely take enough rest.
“Now if players want to play some matches, wherever it may be, that’s their choice. If you want to rest for six weeks, just don’t do anything, you can do that as well, which was not possible in the past. I think it’s definitely good.
“Now obviously it’s the responsibility of the players to not make errors and keep on playing, never to rest, all those things. But at least it’s their choice, I find, which is a good thing
“I know I’m playing exhibitions, but I think my situation is pretty unique. I’ve never been to South America as a professional tennis player. Couldn’t be more excited now for that trip. But I made sure I have a two-week vacation before that.
“So for me that is even the beginning of the build-up and the workouts. And on top of it, it’s a lot of fun. Plus I’m not playing any exhibitions after that, like I have in the past. I’m not playing the first week of the year either.
“Basically I’ve given myself enough space. It’s about just making sure you manage your schedule correctly.”
Federer has still to confirm his tournament schedule for next year. Having turned 31 this year, played 600 matches and served 12 years on the tour, he will have the luxury of being able to play as many or as few Masters 1000 events as he wants. It will be interesting to see how he works that into his schedule.
There is the possibility that he may not play a tournament before the Australian Open, having opted out of Doha where he traditionally warms up for the first grand slam of the year. It shall also be intriguing to see if he commits to Switzerland’s Davis Cup World Group tie against the Czech Republic which takes place in Geneva just five days after the conclusion of the Australian Open.
“I first have to make sure I create my schedule so it makes sense for my practice schedule,” said Federer. “I need to practice a whole lot more next year, because this year, I hardly did have an opportunity to do. I have some catching up to do in that standpoint.”