DUBAI // Saddened by golfer Tiger Woods’s recent struggles with injuries, Roger Federer is hoping the American will bounce back soon from his travails and add to his 14 major titles.
Woods was in action here earlier this month, in the Dubai Desert Classic, but pulled out of the tournament with a back spasm after shooting a five-over-par 77 on the opening day. It was only his third tournament after a 15-month absence. He finished 15th in an 18-man field in December’s Hero World Challenge and then missed the cut at Torrey Pines.
A couple of weeks ago, he rescheduled and then cancelled his news conference at the Genesis Open, a tournament hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation in Pacific Palisades.
“I really wish, of course, he could come back and win again — I wouldn’t want anything else but that. It would be great,” said Federer, as he compared their early careers, the struggles with injuries and the battles against a younger generation.
“I think you have to get used to the whole losing part a little bit,” said Federer, as he talked about ageing on the Tour. “You don’t want to accept it like it’s become a normal trend, but it’s definitely something you have to learn how to deal with.
“For me it was normal growing up to lose, lose a lot sometimes. And then once I got into the whole winning bit, then the losing part was harder again because it’s like we are creatures of habit; we get used to it.
“But it’s a very fine line of accepting it and moving on, and just saying, ‘OK, I’ll go at it again next day’, and getting angry, sad, disappointed about it. I think everybody takes it different — that’s when the character comes into play. Also, the childhood I think.
“Tiger, for instance, had a very dominant childhood as well. Virtually everywhere he went, he won as a junior already. I didn’t have that. So for me, it was a bit of a different upbringing. I wasn’t supposed to be the next tennis superstar. He wanted to be the best golfer in the world and he achieved that. So yeah, quite a different life.”
Federer also spoke about his stunning triumph at the Australian Open last month, the emotions and celebrations, at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships’ media day on Sunday.
The Australian Open triumph, was that a surprise given the long lay-off you had?
“Yeah, totally surprising. Back when I was here end of this December, when I did the Periscope live and in the Q&A I was asked, ‘so what are your chances for Australia’ and I was like, “Oh, I don’t know … we’ll find out, but I am happy with really any result’.
“So it came as a really huge surprise. Incredible moment, some of the strongest probably I have ever felt as a tennis player. Plus, today as a more experienced tennis player, I can grasp it quicker and better.
“But thankfully, it’s taken a long time to really just understand everything that has happened and it was nice not having a tournament to play right away. So my last shot is still the forehand cross-court, it’s still match point, it’s still the Rafa [Rafael Nadal] match is my last match if I am talking about tennis. That’s what I have in mind. So I am still riding the wave if you like.
“It’s been such a tough year last year at some many levels, playing basically one healthy tournament last year in Australia. And the rest of it, I was sick in Brisbane or injured or not well or hurt throughout. So for me to then come back this way, couldn’t have been any better way. It’s amazing.”
Have you tried to watch the final again?
“I haven’t seen the whole match. I had friends over and everybody said, ‘Let’s watch the match and make a movie night’, and I am like, ‘No, not three-and-a-half hours, please’. But I have seen a million highlights — again and again and again — of the fifth set, of the best shots or best shots of the tournament. I got sent so many compilations of stuff, with music and emotional stuff, my team celebrating or commentators celebrating. I don’t know, but everything.
“So it’s been a lot of fun and I think I also needed to see it and watch it to go through those feelings again, and just see what it meant to me. I almost couldn’t get enough of it. It was very exciting and I’m happy we could do it as a team after the hard year last year.
There were lots of friends and family down in Australia. Then when I came back, I had time to see the other friends and family, who I hadn’t seen for, probably, two and a half, three months. So, that’s why it was nice to have the time after the Australian Open.”
You picked up an injury in Australia. How is the leg feeling now? Are you cautious about the things you do away from the tennis courts since your knee surgery last year?
“Not really. I have been always somewhat careful. I don’t need crazy things away from the game for me, having tennis as the base excitement. And then my personal family life is plenty. I don’t need to get some more thrills away from it, to be quite honest.
“I wanted to go skiing last year after the Australian Open. That didn’t work out because of the knee surgery that I had. I definitely won’t ski now until the end of my career. That’s fine.
“I am happy taking the kids to the ski lifts and stuff. That’s the most I could do now. And I have watched them improve.
“Yeah, I have to be careful, I understand that. But then, once I am retired, I am still going to be so young that I can still hopefully do so many more things. It will be fine.”
And the injury?
“It’s fine now. I came here on Tuesday and since Wednesday, I have been practising. Let’s say, since Thursday I have been practising all full-out and it’s been going well.
“I am very happy the break, the necessary stuff that I needed to do in terms of just pacing myself through the first few weeks after the Australian Open worked well. I am definitely going to be fine for tomorrow.”
How did you celebrate in Australia after your win?
“Well, I did a lot of press and then I did doping test. Then, I got back to the hotel at 2.45pm and then we partied until 6.30am. Just everybody was in such a good mood. You can imagine they have already been partying for three hours, so when I got there, the atmosphere was rather relaxed. But so excited that finally I could join the party.
“And then it kept on going and as it got later and later in the night, I’m like, ‘OK, I have to go to bed, I am just so tired from the emotional roller coaster that everybody went through’. But it gave me enough time to talk to everybody and just have a really nice time.
“And then when I came back [to his hotel room] — I told the story in Australia — my kids were waking up. So it wasn’t just easy like, ‘let’s sneak in and go to bed’. No, it was about actually playing with the kids and showing them the trophy and talking with them again, and being the dad again that I am usually.
“It was surreal — going from winning to partying to like, ‘Hi kids, how are you doing?’ So, it was quite a lot of changes in those 12 hours.”
Do you feel this is another test for you this week because you haven’t really played on back-to-back days since Halle maybe?
“Yeah, a little bit unknown. I hope we are going to get into this problem, that I will have to play every day. It means I am winning matches.
“But like I said early on in this season, or at the end of last year, it’s going to take me some time, until probably April, to feel my best because then I would have played best-of-five set matches in Australia, back-to-back matches in Dubai and maybe some in Indians Wells and Miami, and then after Miami, I would really know where I am at.
“So I still feel like maybe it’s still some work in progress for me — just getting to understand how the body is going to react, how much load can the body take. In the mind, I’m fresh again. I think being in the Swiss mountains was really good energy for me again, being with the family there. But yeah, it’s definitely a bit of the unknown. I hope I can play tomorrow, so even if I work to win, I would have a day off. Then Wednesday again, that would be definitely good, rather than having to play almost every day if you didn’t end up getting burnt.
“Look, I know the first round is tough. I don’t see myself as a favourite here in this tournament even though I have a great track record. It all starts from zero here. Yes, I got some confidence in Australia, but I did have a big break. I didn’t like right away go play again. The breaks too big for me to come in and just play like I did in Australia. Conditions are a bit different here — it’s still fast and when it’s fast, the margins are small. So I have to take it one at a time.”
It took you five years to win your 18th grand slam. Did you ever get frustrated during those years, or were you like, ‘this is the way it is’?
“It was more like, ‘this is the way it is’. I didn’t have bad years. I won a lot of tournaments. I almost got back to world No1 — don’t remember now what year it was, but before Paris, I had every chance that tournament. If I won Paris and Novak didn’t make the semis, which could have happened, I could have made it back to world No1.
“So it shows that I actually had really good seasons. I remember beating the best in those times. I won the Davis Cup in 2014. So I had good years. Then I had tough years with 2013 and 2016, which almost cancelled themselves out a little bit because of back issues and knee issues.
“It’s just how it was. What I like is when I changed racquets and I tried to reinvent myself, I guess, to some extent. When I had the back issues and changed racquets, I was actually able to come back from 2014 on and play really positive, aggressive tennis. I was able to turn it around for myself. I actually had more fun after that.
“After 2012/2013, I was still trying to win Wimbledon again and I came somewhat close.
“Looking back, that seems like a long time, but I did play good tennis in some stretches. So it wasn’t frustrating maybe like you thought it was.”
What does it mean for the sport of tennis that the two Australian Open champions are 35 years old?
“I think it maybe shows that we keep ourselves in good shape. I think that the players like to play for a long time because I am not the only guy who is 35 and still playing. They actually have a bunch of guys who are doing it on the women’s tour also.
“I think there’s more players now playing longer. They are not retiring anymore at 24, 26, like we have seen that happen often. It shows that maybe the tennis world is a good place. You can stay happy and have a life besides the tennis life, which I think is important.
“Maybe on the men’s tour we have seen a bit of a struggle after the Novak and the Murray generation for a really huge group of players to rush through like maybe my generation was and the Rafa generation was. That also definitely hasn’t pushed out enough of the 35 year olds today. That’s definitely also made it easier to hang on potentially. But nevertheless, I think those generations are very, very strong.
“And conditions didn’t change so much in the last 10 years. So that’s why probably it’s also easier just to have perfected that way of playing. I thought there was more changes from 15 to 20 years ago, to then 10 years ago. The last 10 years have been pretty much the same.
What about the technology?
“Yeah, technology. Now everything … the big change for me came in 2002 when I changed strings to the half-and-half. And then you had court speeds slow down. So I feel like the last 10 to 13 years now have been pretty much the same in terms of the technology of the strings, balls, surface — it all seems pretty much the same. It’s easier maybe to just keep on going. I am not sure.”
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