Roger Federer insists he has no regrets over not playing more tournaments even though he knows he might end the season just a few points behind world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the world rankings.
The Swiss world No. 2 has gone undefeated in the round robin stage at the ATP Finals this week, claiming his third win in as many matches on Thursday with a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-1 over Marin Cilic, who had also lost to Federer in the Wimbledon final in London four months ago.
If Federer wins the ATP Finals, he will finish 2017 a mere 140 points behind Nadal in the rankings.
The 36-year-old has played just 12 tournaments this year — winning seven of them so far — but suffered surprise early upsets by Russian world No. 116 Evgeny Donskoy in the Dubai second round, and Germany’s Tommy Haas in their opener in Stuttgart.
Federer, who had told reporters on Tuesday how much more “ranking-conscious” players are when they are younger, says he’s not too fussed about missing out on the top spot this season.
“Regrets, I don’t have any. But maybe losing to Tommy Haas and Donskoy ended up haunting me,” he said with a smile. “I had match points in both matches. It’s not like I didn’t try.
“To have regrets because of these matches, you know, if I miss out because of that for world No. 1, then maybe I was unlucky. But I also did win matches in Miami, saving match points against (Tomas) Berdych, other matches throughout the season that it could have been gone either way as well. In Australia, (Kei) Nishikori. You name it. Things could have turned very quickly much earlier.
“So I’m just happy I’m playing a great season. I’m so happy that I was able to reach this level of play and still being able to play also at the end of the year. It wasn’t just, like, one tournament at the beginning, then nothing after that. So it was just throughout I’ve had a great year.
“I have no regrets because I totally over-exceeded my expectations. Just happy I’m injury-free and healthy right now, enjoying myself still.”
Federer tops Group Boris Becker and will face either Dominic Thiem or David Goffin in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Since the start of the year to date, Federer has lost just four matches and is enjoying a tremendous season.
Will it be on his mind to target the No. 1 ranking next year, knowing he can be ever so close to Nadal in the standings?
“I have 2,000 points to defend in Australia, he doesn’t. So there’s the problem already. I know he has a lot of points to defend, too, in Australia, but not as many as me,” Federer noted.
“That’s why I always said, look, it’s not a realistic goal in some ways, you know, world No. 1. It is interesting. It’s the ultimate achievement in tennis in some ways, it always has been for me. But at this age, it just can’t be because I think I’ll make mistakes if I start chasing it.
“I’m not sure how much the body allows me to chase goals like this. Maybe if I start thinking about it too often and too much, I think I’m maybe also not playing the way I’m supposed to be playing, maybe I tense up, maybe I’m nervous, maybe that’s not good for my back. Who knows what it is.
“Still far away from being close in the points with Rafa. Still need to win this tournament before it’s actually really close. I’m only in the semis. The big points are really coming in now. So that’s why my focus is on the semis. If I would win that, of course it’s just on the finals.”
Rafael Nadal won a defamation case against former French health and sports minister Roselyne Bachelot on Thursday after she accused him of doping on television.
Bachelot was handed a €500 fine by a court in Paris and ordered to pay €12,000 in damages and legal fees to the 16-time Grand Slam winner over the allegation she made to the D8 channel in March 2016.
“I would like to reiterate my respect to the legal procedure and Tribunals of France. We have been made aware of their decision by which Mrs. Bachelot has been found guilty of defamation,” the world No. 1 said in a statement.
“When I filed the law suit against Mrs. Bachelot, I intended not only to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete but also the values I have defended all my career.
“I also wish to avoid any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence or foundation and to go unpunished.
“The motivation as I have always remarked was not economical. As the tribunal considered there has been a wrong-doing and the sentence recognises the right to damages, the compensation will be paid back in full to an NGO or foundation in France.”
Bachelot, the ex-minister from 2007-2010, alleged that Nadal had faked an injury in 2012, when he missed the final six months of the season due to knee problems, in order to hide a positive drug test.
Nadal has never failed a drugs test and denies ever using banned substances.
He had sought €100,000 in damages and explained last year that he had decided to take legal action to set an example, having previously ignored allegations against him.
His lawyer, Patrick Maisonneuve, told the court in October that the doping accusation could have had “major consequences” for Nadal concerning his “existing or future sponsors”.
Spain football star David Villa posted a message of support for Nadal saying: “The people who love you, admire you, and enjoy your tennis, never had any doubts. I’m very proud of you. You’re the best, my friend.”
— David Villa (@Guaje7Villa) November 16, 2017
If there’s one player who has no qualms about honestly expressing his feelings, it’s Grigor Dimitrov.
Midway through the 2016 season the talented Bulgarian sat in a small interview room at Roland Garros following a third consecutive first-round exit at the tournament and confessed he was feeling “insecure”, saying his dip in form was “scary”.
The 26-year-old spent years living in the shadow of the nickname ‘Baby Fed’, knowing his elegant playing style resembled that of Roger Federer. But such comparisons rarely ever benefit the up-and-coming player trying to break through. If anything, the pressure can be suffocating.
But it’s safe to say that those days are firmly behind Dimitrov, who this year is not just breathing easily, he is flying.
He’s is up to No. 6 in the world rankings, has won his maiden Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, is the first Bulgarian to qualify for the ATP Finals, and on Wednesday, he crushed David Goffin 6-0, 6-2 to reach the semi-finals at the season finale in London.
“It was just about fighting with my demons to find the right path to be consistent enough. I think the best is yet to come,” Dimitrov told reporters at the O2 earlier this week about his journey.
So what were those demons he was referring to?
“I wish I could tell you, I really, I really wish, off the record,” Dimitrov laughed as he sat down with Sport360 in London.
“I think growing up there’s so many things going through your head especially when you want to do well and you try so hard and you fail and all that.
“So I think you can gather a little bit of that from that info what it might have been. Honestly these things are in the past right now, I don’t like to live in the past.”
Teaming up with Venezuelan coach Dani Vallverdu a little over a year ago was obviously a big help but there’s more to Dimitrov’s transformation than a simple coaching switch.
“There was a period of time that I felt I learned a lot about myself, about tennis and just everything in general,” he explains.
“And I think that really helped me and sort of propelled me to be a bit more… I mean I’ve always been upbeat and happy but to appreciate it a little bit more, not to take things for granted and every time I’m out there to compete is to really give it 100 per cent because you just never know if you’re going to have another day of that or maybe not so… you try to make the most out of it and in my case, this is I guess where I’m heading right now.
“Every loss hurts more and every win I appreciate more. So I think those are some of the sort of good demons right now that I try to embrace. I just want to use everything to my advantage, from mental aspect, to physical, to the way you eat, how you do the recovery – I could just label all that with one simple word and that’s ‘discipline’.”
Dimitrov started the year with a stunning 16-1 run, that saw him win Brisbane (ending a two-and-a-half-year title drought) and Sofia, and reach the Australian Open semi-finals before losing a five-set heart-breaker to Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, the current world No. 1, picked that match as one of his top three of the season, and Dimitrov admits it was a tough pill to swallow.
Both of them landed in the same group at the ATP Finals but a rematch this week in London never materialised because Nadal withdrew from the tournament due to injury.
Dimitrov had spent some time with the Spaniard training in Mallorca at the Rafa Nadal Academy and of course that marathon match in Melbourne came up.
“We spent a great time together, practiced hard, off the court we had great fun, a couple of dinners, went on the boat, jumped from the boat, we just had fun, basically like two kids, even though he’s 30 (31) and I’m 26, I think for us those moments are so special,” said Dimitrov of his stint with Nadal in Spain.
“And I’m obviously glad to share them with such a player. I think I can learn a lot from him and get the chance to just talk. Not even on a tennis court or in a tennis environment. We played a few times against each other as well, so we’re a complete package right now.
“We even spoke a little bit about that match (at the Australian Open), it hurt me a little bit but he’s like ‘oh come on, forget about it’, but how can I forget about that? It’s unforgettable.
“But I’m an easy-going person, so for me I don’t have any bad thoughts or anything. Whatever we’re doing off the court, yes for sure it’s great, and I have no problem to share that. Obviously when you get on the court — it’s our competitive nature. We ultimately, I don’t wanna say hate each other, but we want to win. So I think that’s special and you don’t see that very often and I’m the type of person who is very easy-going with these things.
“And it’s good to have that competitive nature. And me and him, I think we’re finding that balance when we’re off the court, with our little jabs here and there, but that’s normal. We compete, we want to win, and yeah, whether I’m going to play him or another opponent I still want to win. So we’re going to put all the politeness aside if I play him and it’s on again.”
This isn’t Dimitrov’s first time in the top-10. He joined the game’s elite in 2014 after he reached his maiden Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon. But consistency was his Achilles’ heel and he was riddled with doubts in the following two seasons.
This year is a different story. He started 2017 strong and is finishing it in similar fashion. There is this fresh swagger he’s flaunting on court, and a philosophical air to his rhetoric off it.
So what’s making things so different for him this time around?
“I guess this time I’m not actually thinking about it,” he says.
“I’m just going a little bit with the flow. I’m just focusing on what I’m doing right now, I’m not thinking of the ranking or the points.
“Even before I even qualified here (for the ATP Finals), everybody was counting points and thinking of everything but not me, I said ‘the more I win, the better it would get’ and I think that’s what happened even towards that last match, when I got the call, it was like ‘you qualified’ and I had that bittersweet moment because I just lost the final in Stockholm.
“I don’t think I appreciated it at the time to be honest but as soon as I realised that a couple of days later I was like ‘wow, I’m going to play there’.
“So I got the excitement going on again and walked into the doors a week ago and I was like ‘wow, I feel this is where I belong and this is what I’ve been working so hard for’.”
Dimitrov is good friends with Federer off the court, and if you haven’t seen them singing together in their ‘One-handed Backhand Boy Band’ you’re lucky yet somehow missing out at the same time.
Federer has seen Dimitrov’s evolution and echoes some of the Bulgarian’s thoughts on how it happened.
“I would think he’s just more comfortable this time around,” Federer said on Tuesday.
“He feels probably he belongs there, he deserves his place there. It’s like when you get older, you feel like you’ve had to work for it. The first time around, it’s like, it just happened. Oh, wow, cool. I know I worked hard, but probably others have worked harder than me.
“I don’t want to say you don’t feel you deserve to be there sometimes, unless you’re three in the world, you go deep into the top-10. If you just touch it at No. 8, No. 9, you feel like everybody looks at you, depending on your ranking, that week. The next week, if you’re 11, you think the other guys look at you differently, even though it doesn’t matter at all.
“We are very much ranking-conscious early on in our life. Maybe this time he’s like, ‘Okay, I’m 6, 7’, whatever he is now, and he feels, ‘Well, I’m in there for a while, I will be for a while, so maybe I can relax more’.
“He’s always had fun on and off the court. So I think he just feels probably more confident in this whole thing.
“I went through the same situation, to be quite honest. Through success, I calmed down a little bit and felt like I knew myself and knew my place better.”
When you Google ‘Baby Fed’, Dimitrov’s results immediately come up.
But it’s fair to say Dimitrov, and the tennis world, have long moved on from that.
He’s into the last four at the ATP Finals and is officially ready for the big time.