He is 32 now, the father of twin girls, with another child on the way, the winner of a record 17 Grand Slam tournaments and in the minds of many, the greatest tennis player ever to play.
As if he had anything left to prove to the tennis world at large, it is a rejuvenated Roger Federer on tour right now, amassing an 18-2 match record this season going into Saturday’s semi-final against Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov at the BNP Paribas Open.
Federer is seeded just seventh here, and has slipped to No. 8 in the world rankings, thanks to a down year last season, in which there were some legitimate questions as to the direction in which his career was headed. Federer’s campaign was marred by a lingering back problem that first arose at this event and plagued him for the better part of six months.
Additionally, he also made a major equipment switch, moving from the smaller Wilson Pro Staff 90 he’d used for much of his career to a racquet with a larger head. Physically, it wouldn’t have been possible last year for him to play as much tennis as he has this week where, in addition to his singles success, he was also playing doubles with countryman Stanislas Wawrinka into Friday’s semi-finals.
In short, Federer is in a far better place than he was during a challenging 2013 season, in which he won just a single title.
“Last year was difficult,” Federer said, after a 7-5, 6-1 quarter-final victory over South Africa’s Kevin Anderson. “So I’m just happy playing enough matches where you feel like you have momentum, you have some confidence and you’re enjoying it at the same time, because last year that wasn’t always the case.
“Things are easier now, and I’m able to take advantage of the fact that I’m just healthy. Last year, I wasn’t for most of the year – so then I can’t also expect so much from myself. When I do feel good again, this is kind of what I expect from myself.”
Federer won the 78th title of his career last week, in Doha, moving him ahead of John McEnroe on the men’s all-time list. Only Jimmy Connors (109) and Ivan Lendl (94) have more.
The Swiss made it to the final of his opening tournament of the year (Brisbane, Australia) and the semis of the Australian Open, where he lost to Rafael Nadal. He was also the oldest player to finish a season in the top 10 since Andre Agassi in 2005, but his streak of 11 consecutive years in the top five ended last year.
Several players, notably Dolgopolov and Canada’s Milos Raonic, suggested earlier in the week that, with the passing of time, some of the players at the top of the men’s tennis heap are more vulnerable than in the past. Here, Nadal and Andy Murray both lost before the quarter-finals – as did Wawrinka, the reigning Australian Open champ.
But as Federer noted: “One tournament doesn’t do it all for me yet. I mean, it’s nice they believe more in it, and it’s nice that they take Stan as an inspiration. That’s great. That’s what it’s supposed to be.
“I think they should believe more in beating the top guys than just one-offs once in a while. Novak [Djokovic, the world No. 2] and myself are still in the draw, so we will see who’s going to end up winning the tournament at the end.
“Because that’s where the points are, that’s where the prestige is, and I think it’s great to see new players getting opportunities to play on centre court, in quarters, in semis, maybe in finals of Masters 1000s. It hasn’t happened very often, but this might be the time. We’ll see.”
Federer’s racquet switch received much attention last year, and it has gone about as seamlessly as possible. According to Federer, the best thing about it is he’s “not really thinking of it, so that’s a major step in the right direction. That’s the best you can ask for when you change racquets.”
As for life on the tour, travelling with his wife, Mirka, the twin girls and another child – perhaps more than one – on the way, Federer says this is their new normal and he doesn’t expect much to change once the baby arrives.
“We know what it’s all about now – what we need to take on tour, how we need to set up the rooms, how we [handle the] sleepless nights, that kind of thing,” he said. “It’s not like the first time in our lives.
“So I think from that standpoint we’re much more relaxed about the next baby. Myla and Charlene are happy to welcome a little brother or sister, so it’s good fun right now. It’s good times.”
On the family front, the next major decision involves what happens when the twins start school, which is coming up in September.
“It all depends a little bit how my career looks – how much more I’m going to play or not,” Federer said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have the crystal ball where I know it’s going to be two more years, four more years, whatever it may be.”
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