Re­tire­ment? Fed­erer, Still on Cloud Nine, Says He is not Done Yet

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Christo­pher Clarey

With his 18th and most un­ex­pected Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tle in hand, it was not un­rea­son­able to won­der if Roger Fed­erer might steal a move from his friend and one-time ten­nis role model Pete Sam­pras and call it a ca­reer on the high­est pos­si­ble note. Fed­erer told me on Mon­day that the thought did briefly flit through his brain.

“I guess in a far­away place it did cross my mind: How could I ever top this?” he said by tele­phone from Prague. “But then again, the joy was so big, and I kept on watch­ing the re­ac­tion of my team when I won the match point in Aus­tralia and how they were jump­ing for joy. Un­be­liev­able. So much fun. I feel like I want to go through it again.”

Sam­pras never played an­other tour-level match af­ter win­ning his 14th and fi­nal ma­jor sin­gles ti­tle at age 31 at the 2002 U.S. Open, for­mal­iz­ing his re­tire­ment less than a year later. But Fed­erer has other plans, and af­ter win­ning the Aus­tralian Open on Jan. 29 by de­feat­ing his ten­nis yang Rafael Nadal in a tran­scen­dent five-set fi­nal, he said that he has ev­ery in­ten­tion of play­ing on. That is why he was in Prague on Mon­day ex­chang­ing half-earnest shots with the Czech star To­mas Berdych in the mid­dle of win­ter on the deck of a boat on the Vl­tava River. The idea was to pro­mote the first edi­tion of the Laver Cup, the team ten­nis com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Europe and an In­ter­na­tional squad that will be staged in Prague in Septem­ber and in which Fed­erer wants to play a ma­jor role af­ter help­ing to cre­ate the event.

On Tues­day, he was to f ly to Dubai to pre­pare for his re­turn to tour com­pe­ti­tion at next week’s Dubai Duty Free Ten­nis Cham­pi­onship, a tour­na­ment he has won seven times. Af­ter that, he has the hard­court events in In­dian Wells, Cal­i­for­nia, and Miami on his sched­ule in March, but only if his 35-year-old body co­op­er­ates.

Fed­erer said the up­per leg in­jury that trou­bled­himthrough­out­mu­choftheAus­tralian Open — re­quir­ing treat­ment on and off the court — re­mains a con­cern. “I’m still not back in prac­tice at 100 per­cent,” he said, adding, “I have to be care­ful.”

That has been the rare down­beat note in his par­tic­u­larly up­beat month as he has cel­e­brated his first ma­jor sin­gles ti­tle in nearly five years. “This one def­i­nitely has had maybe the long­est ef­fect of any of the Grand Slam wins in my ca­reer,” he said. “I’m so happy be­cause I didn’t have to play in the fol­low­ing weeks. It’s re­ally al­lowed me to re­flect and en­joy. In the past in 2003, when I won Wim­ble­don for the first time, I was in Gs­taad the next day prac­tic­ing and stuff. It’s very dif­fer­ent this time. I’m still rid­ing the wave, still feel­ing like I’m on cloud nine.”

He gained some more al­ti­tude last week dur­ing his va­ca­tion in Switzer­land, tak­ing a day trip high into the moun­tains near his hol­i­day home in Len­z­er­heide with his replica copy of the Nor­man Brookes Chal­lenge Cup, the tro­phy awarded to the Aus­tralian Open men’s sin­gles cham­pion.

Fed­erer is still not ski­ing him­self, not want­ing to risk an in­jury that could de­rail his ten­nis ca­reer. “I don’t dare do it,” he said. “I take the kids and watch them and help them. I’ve got to be pa­tient.”

Ski­ing pre­sum­ably will be one re­ward when his play­ing ca­reer fi­nally ends. In light of his com­mit­ments and pri­or­i­ties and cur­rent form, it is dif­fi­cult to see that hap­pen­ing un­til the end of 2017 at the ear­li­est. But the ques­tion Fed­erer asked him­self how­ever briefly — how can I ever top this? — def­i­nitely hangs in the air.

A great num­ber of things had to fall his way in Mel­bourne for him to win No. 18, in­clud­ing the early de­feats of No­vak Djokovic and Andy Mur­ray and his own five-set vic­to­ries over Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Nadal. There was also the fact that Fed­erer felt un­usu­ally fresh in his legs and his head af­ter six months away from tour­na­ment ten­nis — a forced break as he re­cov­ered from re­cur­ring left knee prob­lems.

Does he feel now that this vic­tory was meant to be? “Hon­estly, I felt the French Open was more meant to be,” he said re­fer­ring to his first and still-only French Open ti­tle in 2009. “I had to work for this one.”

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