The older he gets, the more fun tennis has become for Roger Federer.
As he looked back on his career at Wimbledon yesterday and to the challenges that lie ahead, the 31-year-old Swiss said he felt more relaxed about his work than at any stage of his career. “The fun factor now is much greater than it has ever been,” he said. “I can pick and choose. I am not in this stress like I used to be.”
Over the next fortnight Federer is hoping he will benefit from the seven-week break he took before opening his clay-court campaign in Madrid last month. It was the longest period of time he has spent in Switzerland since he became a regular on the tour.
“Eventually you just have to slow it down a bit and work on your game,” Federer said as he sat back in a chair in one of Wimbledon’s interview rooms. “If you play too many matches it all adds up with you. You can never try out things. That’s why sometimes some free time is good because you reflect on how you’ve been playing and what you want to achieve.
“I don’t want tennis to become an everyday grind where it’s nothing special any more. You need it to be special and sometimes you need to get away from it all to come back eager. That’s what happened. I was super-excited packing my bags for Madrid. I was excited going back on tour. It was an important moment for me to see how hungry I still was. And I still am.”
Federer said his early career had been more stressful than his later years because he had struggled for consistency. “Every time you lose early you’re fighting your demons and then sometimes it’s not as much fun,” he said. “You have to go to tournaments you don’t actually want to go to but you should go to because you’re supposed to grind it out a bit. Now I can do things that I really enjoy.”
Following yesterday’s draw Federer could be heading for a semi-final rematch with Andy Murray following their double-header here last summer, which proved to be a significant turning point in the Scot’s career. Having lost to Federer in the Wimbledon final, Murray went on to beat him in the gold medal match at the Olympics.
Murray has always enjoyed the match-up with Federer and has won 11 of their 20 meetings, but until last summer the Swiss had always held the upper hand when they met on the biggest stages. In their first three Grand Slam meetings – all in finals – Federer did not drop a set. However, the tide started to turn here in last year’s final, with Murray taking a set off him for the first time. After beating him in the Olympic final, Murray went on to claim a first Grand Slam victory over the Swiss at the Australian Open, where he won in five sets.
Does Federer think Murray will be stronger at Wimbledon this year for reaching last year’s final and winning the Olympics? “Yes, I think Andy believes even more so this year that he can win,” Federer said. “I think it’s normal after how well he played at Wimbledon. He played great. He played very well at the Olympics, so he proved his point. Then the US Open happened as well a few months later, so he should be very confident.”
If those results have done much for Murray, Federer said he did not feel they had changed how he felt about playing the Scot. “Andy was always tough to play against,” he said. “I thought he was ready to win Slams three years ago. He knows that and everybody knew that. He was able to tune his game and have a better mindset and he started not to struggle against lower-ranked players any more.”
The last 12 months have not been the best of Federer’s career. He has won only two titles since last year’s Wimbledon, at Cincinnati in August and at Halle on grass last weekend. He has also lost the world No 1 ranking, falling behind both Novak Djokovic and Murray.
However, Federer insisted the lack of titles had not been on his mind. “It wasn’t like I was going into events thinking: ‘Right, I’ve got to win one otherwise it’s going to be a year since I won a tournament.’ Clearly also when you don’t play so much you don’t have as many opportunities to win. But ever since Cincinnati I’ve actually played OK.
“It was only just after the French Open that people started to talk more about that because my performance was also not what I like to see for myself. So clearly winning Halle came at the right time to silence a few people. But I don’t play tennis for that. I play tennis for enjoyment.”