Some question whether the Swiss maestro is even human. 20 Grand Slam titles and a career in its 21st season; how is Roger Federer still playing world class tennis at the age of 37?
There are a few keys that Federer has formulated to unlock a longevity that has not been seen in tennis since the days of Jimmy Connors. Britain’s Andy Murray could well look at those factors in order to rekindle his hopes of continuing his career.
Murray is currently considering a second hip operation in the space of 12 months. If he does decide to have the operation, potentially using Bob Bryan’s New York specialist Dr Edwin Su, then Murray could make a successful return to the sport within 4-6 months like the doubles specialist has done.
Murray could then embrace the strategies that have served Federer so well, which are listed below:
1. Meticulous planning
Federer does not think in the short term; he is a visionary. Although we are only two weeks into 2019, you can assume the Swiss legend has already mapped out his season.
He may be playing it coy in public, but I am 99% certain he will not play the French Open. Federer and his coaching team have penciled in Dubai in February, followed by Indian Wells and Miami.
This will be followed by a 12-week break during the claycourt season, before enjoying his favorite grasscourt season. Stuttgart, Halle and Wimbledon will be on his agenda.
Although Federer will be tempted to play Stuttgart to defend his title and ranking points and also try and win a 10th Halle title, the most of any tournament in his career, he should ideally just play one of the two to avoid burnout.
In 2017, his early defeat to Tommy Haas in Stuttgart was a blessing in disguise as he won Halle and Wimbledon at a canter, without dropping a set in either tournament. But in 2018 he reached the final in both Stuttgart and Halle, which made him look a little jaded at Wimbledon.
It’s for this same reason he will most likely play the Cincinnati Masters over the Canadian Masters before going to New York for the final Grand Slam of the year.
The Laver Cup in his homeland of Geneva is a top priority. He will then close out the year in Shanghai, Basel and London, assuming he qualifies.
It is this sheer attention to detail and careful precision when choosing his schedule that allows Federer to maximize the most from his body and his ability.
2. Putting his body first
Federer will always think of the bigger picture. He will not play a tournament just to please the fans. He just won’t.
A good example of this is how he chose to not play the French Open or the Paris Masters in 2016 and 2017, until last year where he surprisingly chose to play in the latter.
Of course, Federer is immensely popular throughout the world and particularly with the French people, as he speaks fluent French and is humble in defeat or victory.
Yet he believes that being careful with his body at his age, 37, is the most important thing. It is hard to disagree with that notion.
He must preserve his body, and the Murray scare will only sharpen his assertions further that he must not allow himself to be dragged into long grueling affairs.
3. Skipping the French Open and the claycourt season
Federer won the French Open in 2009 to complete the Career Slam. Considering the fact that Nadal is so dominant on the clay and often wins the 4/5 tournaments he plays in that stretch of the season, there would be no point Federer playing.
Unless he can win the tournament, he won’t play it.
There was a story in the press at the end of last season that he would play the Barcelona Open. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
The third key overlaps with the second. Federer knows that clay is harder on his knees and his back. He is much more likely to get injured on that surface than any other.
Federer is an extremely intelligent player and at 37 years old, I am confident he will not risk playing the clay court season. Having skipped it successfully in 2017 and then again in 2018, I believe this year will be the same.
This is something Murray should mimic if comes back from surgery.
4. Training less
Federer openly admits to not training at all or participating in a light session so he can go out on to the court with maximum energy. His sheer talent, combined with his experience, are enough to win matches.
That's another key Murray could use, instead of going flat out in Miami in his off-season training block.
5. Adopting a philosophical approach
Federer thinks in the now. He rarely gets upset or angry if a match or a point doesn’t go his way.
It is this thinking in the now and point for point mentality that has served him so well.
He claims he does not know if he will play the Tokyo Olympics next year, and I believe him.
When he is pestered by the press on when he will decide to call it a day, he tells them that it is whether his body holds up, if his wife Mirka and his children are still enjoying the travel.
It is this focus on the now and thoughtful approach that have taken him this far.
6. Altering his play
Federer has invented new strategies to aid his game.
The drop shot was a tactic he added in 2014. He worked on his backhand that worked beautifully in 2017 his comeback year. He introduced the famous “sneak attack” charge to the net and bamboozle his opponent when he serves.
Now his rival Rafael Nadal has modeled a new serve. Juan Martin Del Potro has done this with his backhand slice to protect his wrist from further injury.
Murray could also use different movements to put less strain on his hip.
7. Keeping it short and sweet
Federer likes to keep his points short. He is also keen to win in straight sets and get the job done as quickly as possible.
He is mindful of the fact that the less energy he uses on court, the quicker he can get back to the locker room and implement his post-match recovery. Winning every match in straight sets to win Wimbledon 2017 is the perfect example of that.
Murray should aspire to galvanize and update his tennis encyclopedia and approach if he is to look after his body and come back to the sport he so desperately loves.Published 18 Jan 2019, 23:52 IST