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