Fed­erer, 35, tak­ing dif­fer­ent ap­proach

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL -

LON­DON — Roger Fed­erer has learned not to take any­thing for granted.

That’s why he said what he did dur­ing the tro­phy pre­sen­ta­tion af­ter his record-break­ing eighth Wim­ble­don cham­pi­onship: “I hope this wasn’t my last match. And I hope I can come back next year and try to de­fend the ti­tle.”

Some won­dered whether that meant Fed­erer, 35, was con­sid­er­ing re­tire­ment.

Hardly. What he meant, Fed­erer ex­plained Mon­day, was sim­ply: “I can’t think too far ahead.”

“I didn’t think about what I was go­ing to say. It just came out that way, to show the peo­ple that, yes, of course I hope to de­fend my ti­tle and, of course, I wish to be back here next year. But we just don’t know if it’s re­ally go­ing to ac­tu­ally hap­pen,” he said in an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press at the All Eng­land Club the morn­ing af­ter beat­ing Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in the fi­nal.

“We have to wait and see.” He didn’t al­ways take that ap­proach, back when he was in his 20s and reached a record 10 Grand Slam fi­nals in a row.

Things are dif­fer­ent these days.

“At 25, when you win, you’re like, ‘All right, I’ll see you next year!’ be­cause it’s nor­mal. You’re go­ing to be play­ing, for sure. The body’s go­ing to be fine, most likely. And if not next year, well, then the year af­ter that, you know?” Fed­erer said as he walked through the hall­ways of Cen­tre Court in gray pants and a white zip­pered warmup jacket. “But I can’t re­ally think two years ahead from now.

“Let’s be hon­est.” First of all, there’s the noway-around-it mat­ter of his age: Fed­erer turns 36 on Aug. 8; he is the old­est man to win Wim­ble­don in the Open era, which be­gan in 1968.

And then there’s what hap­pened about 18 months ago: A father of four, he was prepar­ing a bath for his twin daugh­ters when he turned and felt a “click” in his left knee. In Fe­bru­ary 2016, he had the first op­er­a­tion of his ca­reer, arthro­scopic surgery to re­pair torn car­ti­lage.

Fed­erer re­turned to the tour that March, then missed the French Open be­cause of lin­ger­ing back prob­lems, end­ing his record streak of 65 con­sec­u­tive Grand Slam tour­na­ment ap­pear­ances. Af­ter a semi­fi­nal loss at Wim­ble­don a year ago, he took the rest of the sea­son off to let his body heal, miss­ing the U.S. Open, Rio Olympics and ev­ery other event.

“I’ve seen how quickly things can change,” Fed­erer said. “Fill­ing a bath­tub for my girls changed the whole next 1½ years of my tennis life, re­ally.”

These past six months turned out OK, though.

Fed­erer is 31-2 with a tour-lead­ing five ti­tles in 2017. That in­cludes his 18th Grand Slam tro­phy at the Aus­tralian Open — end­ing a 4½-year drought without a ma­jor ti­tle — fol­lowed by his 19th at Wim­ble­don, where he be­came the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1976 to win the tour­na­ment without drop­ping a set.

“Ev­ery­thing he does is ex­cep­tional,” said Jonas Bjork­man, Cilic’s coach. “Ob­vi­ously, he’s unique in many ways.”

Fed­erer him­self is sur­prised at how well this year has gone so far.

He says he cer­tainly didn’t ex­pect to win both ma­jors he’s en­tered (he sat out the French Open again, us­ing an­other break dur­ing the clay­court cir­cuit to recharge be­fore the brief grass por­tion of the sea­son).

Now he moves on to the hard courts, in­clud­ing the U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 28.

“I have a hard time think­ing I could win three Slams in one year. It just sounds to­tally sur­real to me,” said Fed­erer, who did col­lect trios of ma­jor ti­tles in 2004, 2006 and 2007. “But I’ll pre­pare my­self the best way pos­si­ble, so that I will have the best chance to re­ally ex­cel there in New York.”

His voice sounded deeper than usual, a bit of af­ter-ef­fect from cel­e­bra­tions into the wee hours that in­cluded the Wim­ble­don cham­pi­ons’ din­ner and drinks with a group of more than 30 friends at a bar. Fed­erer said he didn’t get to sleep un­til 5 a.m.

Here he was, about 6½ hours later, re­turn­ing to the arena to pose for group photos with 200 mem­bers of the tour­na­ment’s staff — groundskeep­ers and oth­ers who sat in a cor­ner of the stands while he took a spot on a court­side ledge, Wim­ble­don’s gold tro­phy be­side him.

“Ev­ery­body say, ‘Swiss cheese!’” Fed­erer said, draw­ing laugh­ter.

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