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Federer discusses retirement, Novak Djokovic, family and more in new interview

Federer will return to the court in early January in Perth, Australia.

News 19 Dec 2016, 19:47 IST
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08:  Roger Federer of Switzerland looks on during the Men's Singles Semi Final match against Milos Raonic of Canada on day eleven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 8, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Federer has been on hiatus since Wimbledon this year, but will return for the Hopman Cup in January

Roger Federer, winner of seventeen Grand Slam titles, has been inactive on the tennis circuit since his semi-final loss to World No. 4 Milos Raonic at Wimbledon earlier this year. Struggling with multiple injuries, worst of all a meniscus that has recurrently bothered the Swiss ace, Federer chose to take an extended break to recuperate – and it has helped him immensely, he revealed in an interview today with the New York Times.

“Mirka is totally committed, totally happy,” he said of his wife, with whom he said he “treasured” the time off the court. “The kids love it, and I’m still hungry, and now I’m even refreshed and rejuvenated.”

But his children had been eager for the new season to begin, he said. 

“The kids were asking, ‘When are we leaving again? Because they were happy to get back on the road. It was like, when are we going the next time to Australia or the next time to New York? And I’ve been saying, ‘Not for a while.’”

Federer’s return is less than a month away, with the Swiss due to partner Belinda Bencic at the team tennis event, the Hopman Cup, in Perth, Australia in early January 2017. Fans have long awaited ‘return of Federer’, who will be lower down in the rankings than he has been in over a decade – at 16th in the ATP singles. Several still root for Federer to win his elusive 18th Grand Slam title, and the 34-year-old is full of convinction and self-belief. 

He had been due to appear at the International Premier Tennis League, or the IPTL, in India this December – with his visit called off due to what was described as “financial reasons.”

But Federer rubbished talk of a formal ‘comeback’, saying “It actually felt like I had my first real comeback in April when I came back in Monaco, especially having had surgery, because I never had surgery before. So that felt like a real comeback to me, but this one feels bigger, obviously, because two months is not like six months. Clearly this comeback is going to have a different place in my career, for sure.”

The legend is considered arguably the best to have ever played tennis, but his 2017 comeback will see not only his old rivals – Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – now World No. 1 – on the scene, but a number of young players who have shot quickly to the top – even beating Nadal and Djokovic, although it could be argued both the Spaniard and the Serb have had some struggles this year.  

Among them – Lucas Pouille, who fought Nadal – and won – at the Grand Slam level, Alexander Zverev, who beat Federer at the semi-finals of the Gerry Weber Open in Halle this year and then went on to win his first ever ATP title in St. Petersburg, with a victory over no less than Stan Wawrinka, who had just won his US Open title. 

Read more: 10 young players who could win Grand Slams in 2017 

It’s a tough road ahead, and Federer was absent for much of that season. But in the interview, he explained he had followed all of it “on my phone.”

On the Rise and Fall of Novak Djokovic

Then World No. 1 Novak Djokovic began his season in breathtaking fashion, winning the Australian Open and finally breaking his own French Open ‘jinx’ with his debut title at Roland Garros. But it has been downhill for the Serb from there, with the 29-year-old struggling for wins despite sporadic titles in the latter half of the season.

Federer expressed incredulity at Djokovic relinquishing the World No. 1 ranking, saying “I was very surprised just because when a guy starts a season the way Novak does, achieves his dream by winning the French and his fourth Slam in a row, of course there’s no way in the world that anybody, even the players, start thinking another guy could actually finish No. 1.”

Referring to the Serb’s title at the pre-US Open Montreal Masters, Federer went on, “Novak, let’s be honest, actually didn’t play too bad in the second half. He won Toronto. He played finals in many other tournaments: U.S. Open, the World Tour Finals.”

But he felt that Djokovic was unable to cross the line. “You would think that that’s going to be enough, but what it required was something extraordinary, and Murray was able to deliver that, and that’s where I take my hat off,” he said in praise of the Scot, who at 30 is one of the oldest first-time World No. 1 tennis players – and Great Britain’s first since Fred Perry – which still makes Murray the only British World No. 1 in the Open Era. 

Now Djokovic’s ‘former’ coach, Boris Becker said in an interview last month that Djokovic had “achieved all he had to,” echoing the statements of his core coach, Slovak former professional Marian Vajda. Federer, despite not having had similar experiences, said he sympathised. 

“Maybe it’s only human and understandable that Novak had a letdown, because he achieved everything he wanted to,” he said. “You have to maybe reinvent yourself or whatever you have to do. But it’s nice to see that maybe it doesn’t always come so easy for everybody for so long.”

The Swiss had positives to take away even from Djokovic’s downfall, and the ascent of Murray, saying that the upcoming tennis season would be “epic.”

“I think it actually creates a great story for next year. Andy’s a great story. Novak’s a great story. Rafa, obviously, is always going to be a good story. Me coming back is hopefully going to be a nice story to follow, too.”

He revealed that he had played the entire grass court season aware that he needed time to rest and recuperate. 

“Maybe I could have, should have taken more time after the Australian Open once I had surgery,” he said. “Possibly, but I was well. I was training full on in Dubai.”

“The knee and the body just needed a break,” he said, but Federer had resumed training in mid-to-late 2016 already, and was pictured on several occasions at hitting practice – including with his longtime friend and 2016 US Open Champion Stan Wawrinka in their native Switzerland.

Federer, however, it emerged, only resumed full training at the end of November, where he flew to Dubai – where he trains during the off-season.

“I just felt I needed to start filling in people on how I’m doing as we get closer to the beginning of the season,” he said, promising to live-cast sessions of himself practicing in anticipation of the 2017 season.

On retirement

The period of rest, Federer says, showed him what life post retirement might be like.“I did get that taste of retirement,” he went on, “all of the sudden, I could be organized and say: ‘O.K., we’re going to be four weeks at home in a row in the same place. Who do you want to go for dinner with, Mirka? Or who shall we catch up with?”

Federer reiterated that he truly enjoyed the break and the time spent with his family, but was raring to return – and did not want to retire just yet. “I think that was really exciting and good for us to have that time,” he said. “And it felt good, you know? It did feel good, but it can totally wait. No problem for me. It can totally wait,” he said, putting an end to any rumours that he might quit the sport anytime soon.

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