Roger Federer: Still the daddy

Has fatherhood taken the world No 1's eye off the ball ahead of the US Open? Far from it. Paul Newman discovers how an unexpected luxury (sleep) and Tiger Woods' advice helped him find the form of his life
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The Independent Online

Roger Federer appears to have coped with fatherhood – even with the challenge of twins – with much the same ease as he might have dealt with a qualifier in the first round of a minor tournament. The world's best tennis player, his wife Mirka and their daughters have been together on tour in north America for the best part of three weeks after leaving Switzerland barely a fortnight after the births of Myla and Charlene, yet he is already back in a familiar winning routine.

Having claimed only his second Masters title in two years by winning last week's tournament in Cincinnati, the world No 1 is now in New York, where the US Open begins on Monday. He will be attempting to become the first man to claim the title six years in succession since Richard D Sears, who won seven times in a row from the inaugural event in 1881.

Federer, nevertheless, is sounding as relaxed as a tourist looking forward to the final leg of a leisurely holiday with his wife. "It's good to have a week to hang out with her in New York before playing some more matches," Federer said in typically laid-back fashion.

Impending fatherhood was not the only reason why some observers wondered whether Federer's appetite for success might diminish in the wake of his all-conquering summer. Given that his win at the French Open completed his set of major titles and that his Wimbledon triumph took him past Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam crowns, might Federer, they asked, lack motivation in the years to come?

Any such doubts were swept aside with his performances in Montreal, where he reached the quarter-finals, and in Cincinnati, where he beat Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals and final respectively without dropping a set. With Rafael Nadal still recovering from knee trouble and not at his best on hard courts, Federer could hardly have put down a better marker than to beat Murray and Djokovic, No 2 and No 4 in the world respectively and losing finalists to the Swiss in the last two finals in New York.

As soon as he won Wimbledon last month Federer insisted that his hunger for success and for hard work would remain undiminished. On returning home he trained every day until the twins were born (about a fortnight early, on 23 July) and resumed almost immediately after their arrival. Within days of their birth, the Austrian player Stefan Koubek came to Switzerland to act as Federer's hitting partner during a week of solid practice.

Federer agreed he had taken fatherhood in his stride. "I had a good nine months to get ready for it, which helped," he said. "Mirka was great during the pregnancy, so I knew that when the babies arrived she'd be relaxed, would be great support and wouldn't mind the travelling. All of that has helped me to be free in my mind and to do what I do best. People don't know about the hard work I put in again between Wimbledon and Montreal, but things went great.

"I'm actually playing very well at the moment. Of course I was always going to be confident after winning those big titles in a row. I felt like my game was already pretty good in practice, so I knew I wasn't coming over just to show up, but to really do something. That's already paid off."

Tiger Woods, who has become a good friend, is among those who have offered advice on fatherhood. "He said: 'You'll love it.' I think that's how it's going to be for me, too."

Federer added: "I've been sleeping well enough. It's not been as bad as I had expected. Things have changed in a good way. I love my life now. I'm happy Mirka could join me with Myla and Charlene as well. It's been a lot of fun outside of the tennis grounds.

"It's definitely a very positive change in my life, having twin girls. We're enjoying every second we can spend with them. Mirka spends 24 hours with them and I spend a little bit less because I'm sometimes at the tennis, which I still have to do. We love our role and we try to be the best parents we can. So far, the twins have been super cute and it's been great.

"I'm growing into the situation. I'm trying to be a good dad and I think I am. Mirka has been a wonderful mum so far. It's only been a few weeks. It's not like I can say I've done amazingly for the last 20 years. Right now in my life I'm best at being a tennis player. Maybe down the road I will say I'm also a good dad. So far I'm just trying to handle it, and I'm having fun. It's really good times."

Nevertheless, Federer said he felt no more or less at ease than he had ever done. "I'm a relaxed person," he said. "I've always been that type. When I wasn't winning all the Slams and I was losing in finals some people said that I wasn't relaxed any more and was too crazy about winning, but that's untrue. Sometimes you can't take the tour too seriously. It's a lot of work and travelling and you need to be relaxed. I think that's what I am."

How much longer does Federer expect to play at the top? "As long as possible. Of course I would like to win as many titles as possible for the remainder of my career. I always said that staying at the top was important to me. Enjoying the tour is a big thing for me too, because travelling can be tough at times, especially after a career lasting 10 or 12 years. That's not a problem for me, otherwise I would still be at home in Switzerland doing other things and just relaxing.

"I like to move and I like to be on tour. I like playing in front of great crowds. I feel like we have a good time in the men's game right now. There's great excitement and I don't want to miss this time."

Federer has every reason to feel more confident going into the US Open than he was 12 months ago, when he arrived in New York having lost to Nadal in the Paris and Wimbledon finals, gone out early in the summer's two Masters Series tournaments and failed to win a singles medal at the Olympics.

"I definitely had to weather the storm," Federer recalled. "I was still trying to hang on to my results in the Grand Slams, where I had always reached the semi-finals or better. There was no real need to panic."

He added: "It helps if you're happy in your personal life, though when I walk on the court it's all tennis. I have to be able to block out things that happen off the court. I want to have fun out there. I love playing in front of sell-out crowds. If you don't get a high from them, something's wrong with you and you'd better retire. I don't ever have that feeling and I'm sure I never will."

Murray's number is up: Scot seeded No 2 for first time

Andy Murray will start a grand slam tournament at the bottom of the draw for the first time after being seeded second for next week's US Open. The 22-year-old climbed above Rafael Nadal to be No 2 in the world last week after winning the Masters 1000 event in Montreal. Reigning champion Roger Federer, who is bidding for his third successive major title after triumphing at the French Open and Wimbledon, is the top seed and therefore cannot face Murray until the final.

After recovering from the knee problems that prevented him defending his Wimbledon crown, Nadal is seeded third ahead of Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick.

Murray has also become the third singles player to qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London in November. The 22-year-old Scot will join Federer and Nadal in the elite eight-man field for the season-ending showpiece after reaching the semi-finals of the Cincinnati Masters last week.

This will be Murray's second appearance following his debut last year in Shanghai, when the tournament was called the Tennis Masters Cup.

"It just helps to get there, to qualify sooner rather than later," Murray said. "A couple of years ago I had to play a lot at the end of the season because of my wrist injury and I missed qualifying by one match which was pretty stressful. Now I can go into London fresh. I know my exact schedule after the US Open and I can stick to it now."

Paul Newman

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