HE’S A LEG­END

Sad­dened Fed­erer pays trib­ute to re­tir­ing Mur­ray

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - MIKE DICK­SON re­ports from Mel­bourne

ROGER FED­ERER hailed Andy Mur­ray as a ‘leg­end’ be­fore re­veal­ing he had been hit hard by news of his ri­val’s im­pend­ing re­tire­ment.

Speak­ing ahead of what could be the Scot’s last-ever match — against Roberto Bautista Agut in the Aus­tralian Open first round this morn­ing — Fed­erer said: ‘Of course, it hits us top guys hard be­cause we know Andy very well. He’s a good guy, a Hall of Famer, a leg­end.’

The 37-year-old Swiss mae­stro said he had first seen how badly Mur­ray (right) was strug­gling with his hip when they played an ex­hi­bi­tion match in Glas­gow in Novem­ber 2017.

‘I couldn’t be­lieve he ac­tu­ally played,’ re­called Fed­erer.

Mur­ray hopes to com­pete at Wim­ble­don for the last time this sum­mer but his sur­geon has re­vealed it will be dif­fi­cult for him to keep play­ing un­til then. No­vak

Roger Fed­erer was never above play­ing mind games with his op­po­nents and tried it on with Andy Mur­ray be­fore they met in their one Aus­tralian open fi­nal back in 2010.

‘I know he’d like to win the first grand Slam ti­tle for British ten­nis in, what is it, 150,000 years?’ laughed Fed­erer, as he looked ahead to a match he would win in straight sets.

The joke did not end up be­ing on Mur­ray, as he duly ended the wait for a gB sin­gles win­ner three years later after what did, in fair­ness, seem like an eter­nity.

With the 31-year-old Scot head­ing on to court this morn­ing to face roberto Bautista Agut in the first round there was no need for Fed­erer, still go­ing strong at 37, to play games.

Whether it proves to be Mur­ray’s last match in a ma­jor or not, he is no longer a threat to the great Swiss, who was able to talk in more sin­cere terms about what one of his ri­vals has achieved.

In fact, the news of Mur­ray’s im­pend­ing re­tire­ment has been sober­ing for de­fend­ing cham­pion Fed­erer, as it is an­other re­minder of his own sport­ing mor­tal­ity.

‘of course, it hits us top guys hard be­cause we know Andy very well,’ he said yes­ter­day. ‘We like him. He doesn’t have many en­e­mies, to be quite hon­est.

‘He’s a good guy, Hall of Famer, leg­end. I was dis­ap­pointed and sad, a lit­tle bit shocked, to know now that we’re go­ing to lose him at some point. But we’re go­ing to lose ev­ery­body at some point. It’s just now that it’s def­i­nite.’

No­body needed to tell Fed­erer how se­ri­ous Mur­ray’s con­di­tion was be­cause he was the first player to be at the op­po­site end of the court to him after the Scot limped out of Wim­ble­don 2017.

The fol­low­ing Novem­ber, as part of a re­cip­ro­cal ar­range­ment, Fed­erer flew to glas­gow to play an ex­hi­bi­tion match against him to raise money for Mur­ray’s char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion.

As it turns out, what he saw, from his unique van­tage point, of his op­po­nent’s phys­i­cal state rather shocked him.

‘In glas­gow, I knew how not well he was. I couldn’t be­lieve he ac­tu­ally played,’ said Fed­erer. ‘But it was for a good cause. He felt like he could do sort of the two-and-a-half sets that we played.’

The re­turn­ing cham­pion is still in as­ton­ish­ingly good shape.

It is not just him be­ing nat­u­rally blessed with an ex­tra­or­di­nary physique, it is also the econ­omy with which he plays, and the man­ner in which he has pre­pared for tour­na­ments which has con­trib­uted to a longevity that would al­ways ex­ceed that of Mur­ray and many oth­ers. ‘The way I play ten­nis, maybe it’s smoother than the other guys,’ he said.

‘It just maybe looks that way. I work ex­tremely hard in the matches as well. It just maybe doesn’t come across so much. Maybe it’s part of the equa­tion.’

But the most salient point he made was when con­sid­er­ing how he has cho­sen not to work him­self into the ground.

‘I’ve al­ways also be­lieved I can play ten­nis when I don’t train so much,’ said Fed­erer.

‘I think that’s been 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.’

This is very much in con­trast to Mur­ray, who never felt he could com­pete to his op­ti­mum level un­less he pun­ished him­self with an enor­mous train­ing work­load.

As An­dre Agassi once said (al­though it was in ref­er­ence to rafael Nadal): ‘He’s writ­ing cheques his body can’t cash.’

Ul­ti­mately, it has proved that way for Mur­ray, whose at­tri­tional style and Stakhanovite train­ing regime pul­verised his right hip.

That men­tal­ity also led, it should be said, to some short-sighted de­ci­sions that con­trib­uted to his demise.

An ex­am­ple was late 2016, a sea­son crowned with the hugely emo­tional and phys­i­cally drain­ing run to the world No1 spot and vic­tory at the ATP Fi­nals.

Mur­ray should have taken a pro­longed break but in­stead had barely a week off (in­clud­ing at­tend­ing his fa­ther’s wed­ding in Scot­land) be­fore sur­pris­ing ob­servers by launch­ing straight into one of his ar­du­ous pre-sea­son train­ing camps.

He also opted to play in Qatar in the first week of the fol­low­ing Jan­uary rather than al­low­ing him­self proper ad­just­ment and prepa­ra­tion time to bid for that elu­sive Aus­tralian ti­tle. He ended up los­ing in the fourth round when he was top seed and favourite. That, it turned out, was the be­gin­ning of the spi­ral of ill-health that cul­mi­nated in last week’s emo­tional an­nounce­ment. In the first part of 2017, he suf­fered bouts of flu, shin­gles and an el­bow in­jury, and, by the grass-court sea­son of that year, his hip was be­gin­ning to cause se­ri­ous prob­lems.

This has led all the way to this morn­ing’s un­pre­dictable oc­ca­sion when he takes on world No 23 Bautista Agut.

He is the one un­der more pres­sure than Mur­ray and is the same player who crum­bled to an ex­tra­or­di­nary upset on clay last year in the Spain vs gB davis Cup match in Mar­bella against Cameron Nor­rie.

Fed­erer, for one, was wish­ing Mur­ray well, say­ing: ‘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.’

Talk­ing about him­self, he feels for­tu­nate that his only se­ri­ous in­jury in his 30s, apart from spo­radic back pain, was hurt­ing his knee when run­ning a bath for one of his chil­dren.

He de­clared him­self in good shape for his own opener to­day, against dan­ger­ous Uzbek de­nis Is­tomin.

‘I re­ally un­der­stand my body very well — I know when some­thing hurts and I can play with it,’ he said.

‘When you’re young, let’s just say you have a pain in the el­bow, sort of next day you can play with it, 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 play­ing with pain. It just takes longer to get rid of.’

GETTY IMAGES

Jolly Roger: Fed­erer with ri­val Mur­ray at a char­ity event in Glas­gow

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