Roger's Way: Taking the Long View
In the back half of January, Roger Federer will once again vie for a grand slam championship, this time the 2017 Australian Open. The tournament will specially test the tennis legend, because he's coming off a six-month recuperation of an injured knee. How might the comeback come off, and where does he go from here? Read on – in his own words.
As a professional tennis player, you are relatively old, as a person relatively wealthy, yet you still give 100 percent. Why not kick back and retire?
I like doing what I'm doing, and it won't last forever! At some point of course I'll retire, and then I won't play professional tennis ever again – so I want to make the most of it and enjoy it while I can. My aim is still to beat the best, to win the biggest tournaments, and if I can't do that, then it's a serious question as to whether I'll continue. But I'm too close to the top, enjoying myself too much and playing too well to give up now. As for wealth, it is nice for me and my family to be financially secure, but I don't think much about that. The question for me is: would you still like to play? And my answer is a definite yes.
From July 2016 you took time off to recover from an injury, so you had to miss the Olympics. How tempted were you to play on and go for gold?
It was tough, when after Wimbledon I realised my knee wasn't well. I had already missed the French Open and a few other tournaments in early 2016, but I'd hoped to come back for the Olympics and the US Open. Now if there is one tournament that anyone wants to win in his lifetime, it's the Olympics. [Editor's note: Federer won gold in the 2008 and silver in the 2012 Games.] But first, I didn't want to risk the possibility of permanently damaging my knee and becoming a broken old man in retirement. I want a normal life with my family. Second, the medical opinion and my personal opinion was that by taking time off to recuperate my knee, I might come back in 2017 and play a few more years at the top. That's what I intend to do.
My aim is still to beat the best, to win the biggest tournaments.
You've lasted longer at the top than most tennis players today – why?
My playing style is one reason. I play at high impact, but probably a lower impact than some of the other top players. I put less stress on my body and my mind. Also I'm one of the new generation of players who began taking care of themselves early in their careers. I train not only to get stronger and to play better, but to prevent injury. When I came into the professional tour in the late 1990s, the idea of having a masseuse, a physiotherapist and a fitness trainer was novel. Today, I and nearly all of the top players have them.
You don't often lose, but when you do, how do you bounce back?
You definitely learn more from losses than from wins. There's always something you could have, should have tried differently. Then again, sometimes the opponent is just good. Sometimes you just get outplayed. Whatever, it's important to find something positive about the experience, even if it's a small thing. Being positive is important.
You definitely learn more from losses than from wins.
In preparing for matches, how much do you focus on yourself, how much on the opponent?
It's changed over time. In my early years, I focused more on what I should do, not so much on what opponents were doing. Then I went through a period where I focused more on the opponents. Now I've come full circle to where I focus on both. Still, the former overrides. I like the confident mind-set that lets me focus on my game plan before his.
You've been off the tour since July to heal your knee – how is that going?
It's been surprisingly easy and comfortable. At first there was some disappointment at missing tournaments, but then I started looking forward. When I come back to the tour, it's going to be exciting and so much fun. The hidden benefit to the injury was that I suddenly had a lot more time available. So I sat down and wrote a list of all the things I wanted to do – especially with my wife and kids – and we've been doing more together than ever. Fortunately I have a lot of flexibility: there are lots of places where I can train and be with them at the same time.
The hidden benefit to the injury was that I suddenly had a lot more time available.
You just came back to the tour a couple of days ago.
Yes, I've just played Australia's Hopman cup and will now play the Australian Open. You always hope to come back with a bang, and be super-successful from the get-to, but it might take 4-5 tournaments to see where I am with my game. There are no guarantees, so I'm cautious but also optimistic. My aim is to get back into the highest rankings.
Your preparation for a new season – how does it compare to what you did at the start of your career?
It's completely different, not least because I now have a wife and four kids. Also, today things are well oiled. I know exactly what to do, and I have a proven team around me to help me do it. The only thing left to do now, is to get on with it.