It was the message that the rest of men's tennis was dreading. The morning after his victory over Andy Murray in the Australian Open final, Roger Federer was back at Melbourne Park yesterday afternoon, dodging the workmen dismantling the temporary structures and delivering his chilling news: the best player in the history of the game is feeling better than ever.
At 28 you would expect a 16-times Grand Slam champion to suffer the odd ache and pain after a fortnight of tennis, but in the wake of his fourth victory here Federer looked a picture of good health. Dressed in jeans and a casual top bearing his "RF" logo, sitting back in his chair in the shade outside what was left of the players' lounge, he sounded almost embarrassed to admit how good he felt, especially after staying up all night drinking champagne with friends.
"I feel fine, to be honest," he said. "I don't feel too tired. I'm surprised. I think by now I know my body so well and I've gone through these situations so many times that I'm not so exhausted. I'm tired, but I remember in the past I couldn't get out of bed, my body was down, I would press the 'off' button and would just want to sit back for two weeks and let my body heal. Today it's very different. I feel like I could go skiing tomorrow – no problem. I'm not going to do that, but I feel fresh."
With the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup perched on the table in front of him, Federer admitted that much had changed in the 12 months since he lost here to Rafael Nadal for the third time in four Grand Slam finals. "It was here that we found out that Mirka was going to have twins," he said of finding out he was going to be a dad. "Since then I've won three Slams and we've had the two girls. But the success remains – or at least it's come back. Although 2008 wasn't a bad year, it's definitely come full circle. And I think there's still some left, especially with the way I'm playing right now."
Federer felt he had played the best tennis of his life at the end of 2007. While he did not agree that 2008 was a blessing in disguise, he said that he had had to reinvent himself in the wake of what was a moderate year by his own extraordinary standards. He went out in the semi-finals here after going down with glandular fever, lost to Rafael Nadal in the Paris and Wimbledon finals, failed to win the Olympic singles gold medal in Beijing and slipped from No 1 in the world rankings. The key was that Federer felt he was not moving about the court with the same speed and lightness of foot that he had in the past. He made changes to his fitness and training regime to remedy the problem – he has a new trainer in Stéphane Vivier – and believes he is now reaping the reward. "My movement has come back," he said. "I think it always used to be good, but I think I lost a little edge in my movement in 2008 and 2009. I feel like that's all come around again."
Federer said he had also transformed his style of play in recent years. Having once played much of his game at the net, he now sticks much more to the baseline, like almost everyone else. However, he feels his experience of playing another way gives him an advantage over younger players, such as Murray.
"Knowing how the game used to be played makes me a better player," he said. "I can put pressure on an opponent by coming to the net – which is not something many players are used to these days. It's very satisfying, because it's not easy to adjust to these new players over and over again. Murray especially neutralises you very well. He tangles you up in these rallies and you can't do anything about it because if you play too aggressively you lose and if you play too passively you lose. So you have to have this perfect balance."
Did he feel he had made a statement to the other players with his performance here? "Statements, what the other players think, what the press or the fans think, aren't the most important things for me. I'm happy that I've started the season well. Every time I've played well at the Aussie Open I went on to have a good season. That gives me a sense of security, though I know I'll still have to put in the hard yards to come through and win matches and tournaments. But I'm excited about this new season because I feel that I played some of the best tennis of my life these last two weeks."
To see Federer here, playing as well if not better than ever, with his family around him (he is the first father to win a Grand Slam title for seven years), you wonder whether life could ever be sweeter for a man. "It's fantastic and I wouldn't want things any other way," he said. "It's so much fun. The babies are so good now. We're still enjoying this moment, but I think I've always had a good sense of reality, to separate tennis from the rest of my life, because it's not everything. It's definitely enhanced that and showed me that family is even bigger and better than I thought it would be."
When Federer returned to his hotel room as the sun rose over Melbourne yesterday he was delighted to find that Myla, one of his daughters, was awake. "Even though she obviously has no clue what has happened and couldn't care less, I still felt it was a special moment to hold her in my arms after what happened," he said.Reuse content