Fed­erer feels he’s ‘in a great po­si­tion’

The Straits Times - - SPORT - Day 1: Sing­tel TV Ch114/115 & StarHub Ch208/209, 8am & 4pm

MEL­BOURNE • Amelie Mau­resmo won her two Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tles at the Aus­tralian Open and Wim­ble­don in 2006 and re­tired three years later.

She would not have imag­ined then that Roger Fed­erer, the man who won the same two Grand Slam sin­gles ti­tles that year, would still be among ten­nis’ elite more than a decade later.

“I don’t know how he does it,” the French­woman said. “What it puts on your body is huge. The train­ing, the matches, the travel, the jet lag – any­thing.”

While Mau­resmo will be at the first Ma­jor of the year as the coach of com­pa­triot Lu­cas Pouille, Fed­erer’s bid for a 21st Grand Slam starts to­day against Uzbek­istan’s De­nis Is­tomin.

“Win­ning back-to-back Aus­tralian Opens like this, i n my mid-30s, it’s one of my favourite things I will look back on in my ca­reer,” the t wo-time de­fend­ing cham­pion said. “I didn’t think it was go­ing to hap­pen.”

The 37-year-old ac­knowl­edges his age read­ily, quip­ping at the Hop­man Cup re­cently that his then op­po­nent, 20-year-old Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas, “could be my son”.

De­spite mar­vel­ling at his own abil­ity to run up the score in the record books – 99 ti­tles and count­ing – at an age when many would count him out, Fed­erer seemed to trail off after an aus­pi­cious start to last sea­son, when he won his first 17 matches.

After win­ning the Rot­ter­dam Open in Fe­bru­ary and briefly re­claim­ing the No. 1 rank­ing, the Swiss went with­out an­other tour­na­ment cham­pi­onship un­til Oc­to­ber.

How­ever, he played down the dooms­day talk that fol­lowed his stag­na­tion in the sec­ond half of last year ahead of his first-round match.

“I wasn’t too dis­ap­pointed,” he in­sisted. “I was more sur­prised to hear that there was sort of con­cern, or peo­ple were say­ing, ‘What a bad sec­ond half to the year.’ I’m happy where I am right now. I’m in a great po­si­tion.”

Promis­ing to do bet­ter this year, he also re­vealed his aim to “re­ally play well when it re­ally comes down to the crunch”.

Yet Fed­erer is aware of where he stands in the peck­ing or­der at Mel­bourne Park, with top-ranked No­vak Djokovic the clear favourite in his eyes.

The Serb, a six-time cham­pion in Mel­bourne, has won the past two Slams, but Fed­erer re­mains his chief threat.

He said: “We know who the usual (con­tenders) are and I’m part of that bunch. I’m play­ing good ten­nis. I’m con­fi­dent that it needs a good per­for­mance by my op­po­nent prob­a­bly to beat me (here).”

The longevity of that oli­garchy, which also in­cludes world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, has blocked sev­eral younger play­ers from break­ing through on ten­nis’ big­gest stages.

No player cur­rently younger than 30 has won even a set in a Grand Slam fi­nal al­though ex­pec­ta­tions are high that ATP Fi­nals cham­pion Alexan­der Zverev can build on his im­pres­sive vic­tory in Novem­ber.

Al­though the Ger­man is re­garded as the most ca­pa­ble of the next gen­er­a­tion to break the Slam car­tel of the old guard, he has never got­ten be­yond the third round in Mel­bourne and has reached the last eight of a Ma­jor only once.

But, hav­ing won in Lon­don, the fourth-ranked 21-year-old, who will play Slovene Al­jaz Be­dene to­mor­row, be­lieves he has now “kind of fig­ured out I have to have the same men­tal­ity when I play at Slams”.

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