Anyone who thought that Roger Federer's more limited playing schedule this year was a sign of the great man slowing down should have known better. The 31-year-old Swiss, who plays his first match in the Dubai Duty Free Championships tonight against Tunisia's Malek Jaziri, said yesterday that part of his thinking in having a less busy season in 2013 was to ensure that he will be in the best possible shape next year.
"It's about having enough time off so that when 2014 comes around I'm in a position with options, which this year I almost wasn't," Federer said, reflecting on a particularly busy 2012, when the Olympics was added to an already demanding schedule. "I can't play a year like I did last year every single season because that's not the point at the stage I'm at in my career. I'm not 22 years old, where I have to play 25 to 30 tournaments a year."
On a swelteringly hot afternoon in Dubai, Federer wore a sweater for the open-air launch of the Association of Tennis Professionals' "Heritage" campaign to celebrate 40 years of its world rankings system. Mr Super Cool was still wearing the sweater when he sat down afterwards to explain that retirement was not on his agenda."I'm not thinking that I can play for another 15 years, but I'd like to give myself the chance to play for many more years to come," he said.
"I'm happy with where my body's at. Thinking back the last three or four years to how busy it's been, I'm very happy to be sitting here today telling you that I'm very healthy and very happy to still be playing and maybe competing for the No 1 ranking, for Grand Slams, for big tournaments like the World Tour Finals."
Following the end of last season, Federer went on an exhibition tour of South America in December, played the Australian Open in January and competed in Rotterdam earlier this month before spending last week in South Africa, visiting projects supported by his charitable foundation.
However, once he has played in next month's Indian Wells Masters he will take a seven-week break before playing his first clay-court tournament of the year in Madrid. He has only 14 tournaments on his schedule this year. "I'll hope that I have enough matchplay all the way through the year but if that's not the case schedules can change very quickly," he said.
Federer will spend his seven-week break at home in Switzerland, devoting a lengthy block of time to practice after taking a holiday. "The last few years have been really tricky in terms of my practice schedule, especially through the Olympic year," he said.
"My philosophy was to keep on playing, keep momentum going so that you don't arrive at the Olympics or Wimbledon or somewhere during that hot phase and you're lacking matches. That was what I was making sure of last year. This year is totally different. My family is obviously very important to me so I want to spend quality time with them."
Asked whether taking a break before the start of the clay-court season was an attempt to make sure he was in the best possible shape for both the French Open and Wimbledon, Federer said: "Yes – and beyond that too. I always try to plan two or three years ahead."
Andy Murray has chosen not to play any tournaments between the Australian Open and Indian Wells – the Scot is training in Florida – while Novak Djokovic has taken a break since playing in the Davis Cup the weekend after he won the title in Melbourne. He has spent time back in Serbia but makes his return to competition here.
Rafael Nadal, the other member of the Big Four, has been making his comeback after a knee injury by playing clay-court tournaments in South America. "He's a player who seems to think he needs to play a lot to play his best," Federer said. "I disagree with that a little bit. I think he can also play very good tennis without playing so much."
Federer said that his three main rivals were all in their prime, which he said was between the ages of 23 and 27 or 28. Asked whether he therefore thought he was beyond his own prime, the world No 2 laughed. "I think I'm playing excellent tennis," he said. "Eventually it will be clear that it's time to stop, but the time is definitely not now."