Fed­erer: I never play through pain bar­rier like Mur­ray

Belfast Telegraph - - SPORT - PAUL NEW­MAN IN MEL­BOURNE

ROGER Fed­erer be­lieves that be­ing care­ful not to over-train and not push his body too hard have been ma­jor fac­tors in his longevity. While Rafael Nadal, No­vak Djokovic and Andy Mur­ray have all suf­fered with se­ri­ous in­juries in re­cent times, the old­est mem­ber of the ‘Big Four’ ap­pears to be as fit as ever as he pre­pares to play in his 20th con­sec­u­tive Aus­tralian Open.

Fed­erer, aged 37, who faces De­nis Is­tomin in the fi­nal match of the open­ing day in Rod Laver Arena to­day, has had oc­ca­sional fit­ness is­sues of his own, par­tic­u­larly in re­cent years, but care­ful sched­ul­ing — such as his de­ci­sion to skip the last two clay-court sea­sons — has helped to en­sure that he can con­tinue to com­pete at the high­est level.

“I’ve al­ways be­lieved I can play ten­nis when I don’t train so much,” Fed­erer said. “I think that’s been maybe one thing that for me, the con­fi­dence I have in my game, even if I don’t play so much, I still feel like I can come up to a good level. Maybe that takes away some pres­sure.Maybe also the way I play ten­nis, maybe it’s smoother than the other guys.”

Mur­ray, who plays Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut here to­day, re­vealed last week that this tour­na­ment could be his last be­cause of the hip in­jury he suf­fered at the 2017 French Open. Al­though he had surgery last Jan­uary, he is still suf­fer­ing with pain. Hav­ing hoped to make this sum­mer’s Wim­ble­don his farewell tour­na­ment, he ad­mit­ted that he might end his ca­reer here.

Could the 31-year-old Scot’s re­mark­able ca­pac­ity for hard work be partly re­spon­si­ble for his phys­i­cal prob­lems? Mur­ray has strug­gled with fit­ness is­sues ever since his ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­er­tions at the end of 2016, when he won nine of the 13 tour­na­ments he played from April on­wards and won his last 24 matches of the sea­son to se­cure his po­si­tion at the top of the year-end world rank­ings.

His last match that year was in the penul­ti­mate week of Novem­ber, yet he went ahead with his tra­di­tion­ally gru­elling Mi­ami train­ing camp the fol­low­ing month and played in Doha in the first week of Jan­uary be­fore go­ing down to a lack­lus­tre de­feat against Mis­cha Zverev here in the fourth round of the Aus­tralian Open.

In the fol­low­ing weeks, Mur­ray fell ill with flu and shin­gles, sus­tained an el­bow in­jury and fi­nally suf­fered the hip prob­lem that will now bring a pre­ma­ture end to his ca­reer.

Fed­erer (right) ad­mit­ted that luck might have played a part in his own longevity but added: “I think I re­ally un­der­stand my body very well. I know when some­thing hurts and I can play with it. I know when some­thing hurts and I should not play with it, but I can still play maybe a match, maybe a week, a month, what­ever it may be. Some­times that helps.”

Asked if he thought age made a dif­fer­ence, Fed­erer said: “I think what hap­pens with age maybe the most is that cer­tain things take longer to re­cover from. When you’re young, let’s just say you have, I don’t know, a pain in let’s just say the el­bow. The next day you can play with it and two days later it’s like you never had it.

“All of a sud­den at maybe 30, 35, 40, de­pend­ing on who you are, what prob­lems you’ve had, you will just feel it for two weeks. You can still play, but now you’re play-ing with pain. It just takes longer to get rid of.

“Again, ev­ery­body is very dif­fer­ent. Ev­ery­body takes the pain dif­fer­ently. I think then that’s also where you have to be very wise what kind of sched­ule you’re play­ing with, what prob­lem you’re deal­ing with.”

Fed­erer, who played Mur­ray in an ex­hi­bi­tion match in Glas­gow in 2017 as his ri­val was at­tempt­ing to re­cover from his hip prob­lem, was asked about the Scot’s deci-sion to re­tire.

“I think un­for­tu­nately his body took the de­ci­sion,” Fed­erer said. “I think it must have been a very long cou­ple of years for him now. When I played with him in Glas­gow, I know how not well he was. I couldn’t be­lieve he ac­tu­ally played.”

“I guess ev­ery­body can un­der­stand where he comes from. At some point when you feel like you’re never go­ing to get back to 100 per cent and you’ve had the suc­cess that Andy has had, you can only un­der­stand the de­ci­sion.

“I was dis­ap­pointed and sad and a lit­tle bit shocked to know that now we’re go­ing to lose him at some point, though we’re go­ing to lose ev­ery­body at some point. It’s just now that it’s def­i­nite.

“Of course I hope that he can play a good Aus­tralian Open and he can keep play­ing be­yond that, re­ally fin­ish the way he wants

to at Wim­ble­don. That’s what I hope for him.

“Of course it hits us top guys hard be­cause we know Andy very well. We like him. He doesn’t have any en­e­mies, to be quite hon­est. He’s a good guy, Hall of Famer, leg­end. He won ev­ery­thing he wanted to win. Any­body would sub-sti­tute their ca­reer with his.

“He’s a great guy.It’s a tough one, but down the road he can look back on [his ca­reer] and be in­cred­i­bly proud of ev­ery­thing he has achieved.”

No­vak Djokovic said he had been aware in his prac­tice match against Mur­ray last Thurs­day that his long-time ri­val was strug­gling.

“We’ve seen so many years of Andy Mur­ray be­ing one of the fittest guys on the tour, run­ning around the court, al­ways get­ting an ex­tra ball back,” Djokovic said. “To see him strug­gle so much and go through so much pain, it’s very sad and it hurts me as his long-time friend, col­league and ri­val.”

End game: Andy Mur­ray in Mel­bourne prac­tice ahead of this morn­ing’s Aus­tralian Open first round sched­uled match

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