The surrounds of Dubai have become quite accustomed to the presence of Roger Federer down the years and the Swiss legend can certainly call the UAE a second home.
The Emirate has served as Federer’s off-season training base for many years, and given his title-laden success at the Aviation Club (seven tournament wins), it’s easy to see why the veteran feels so comfortable in the city.
When you place ‘Federer’ and ‘Dubai’ together in a search engine, RF’s legendary hit with Andre Agassi on top of the Burj Al Arab way back in 2005 floods the results pages.
And, rightly so. That was an iconic moment and ever since then Federer and Dubai have kind of gone hand-in-hand. It’s been a bit of a love affair.
Few expected Federer to add to his 17 Grand Slam titles but he did just that last month at the Australian Open in Melbourne. His win over eternal rival Rafael Nadal was the stuff of dreams and a moment that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Federer’s success Down Under was well documented but less so the part Dubai played in that historic triumph.
On Thursday, December 22, 2016, Federer broadcast his final practice live on his social media channels from his favoured Al Qasr tennis court, giving a unique insight into how he trains and gets ready for the new season.
For fans of the 35-year-old, it was a festive gift worth its weight in gold, especially when Federer then held a question and answer session on Periscope following his hit with Lucas Pouille.
The cleverly-scheduled output of this practice by Federer and his team fed a hungry Fed-fanbase wondering what he had been up to in his six months or so of injury rehabilitation since his last match at Wimbledon.
Federer spent virtually all of December in Dubai and it was once again the place where he found full fitness, confidence and crucially time away from the limelight to get to work.
He was not quite practicing at full tilt in Basel and Geneva in November, but in Dubai he upped the ante.
Hitting regularly at Jumeirah Al Qasr, the venue he has practiced at for over ten years and one of which is a short drive from his Dubai Marina home, it was the perfect place for Federer to fine-tune his game.
He hit there most days but also spent a large chunk of time at Meydan, with the latter boasting similar court surface conditions to the Australian Open.
This, coupled with the trusty warm UAE climate, provided the perfect springboard for Federer heading to the Hopman Cup in Perth that kicked-off 2017.
Working with long-term coach Severin Luthi, chief lieutenant of the Federer camp and the man Federer places utmost trust in, and Ivan Ljubicic, the coaching pair made Federer believe he could win another Grand Slam.
Pierre Paganini, Federer’s renowned fitness guru, who has worked with the Swiss on conditioning, flexibility, balance and coordination for well over two decades, deserves an honourable mention.
He is a man very much behind the scenes but the work he does with Federer in Dubai is crucial, and we were fortunate enough to get a taste of that during the live periscope broadcast.
The input of Paganini, a fellow Swiss, is without doubt a key reason why Federer stayed injury-free and at peak physical condition throughout the best years of his career, while Daniel Troxler – Federer’s personal physiotherapist – has also worked wonders.
The two men conjured up a divisive physical conditioning plan to free the Swiss of troublesome knee pain and build up strength in his left side.
When you actually look back at the way Federer was moving at the Australian Open, it is mind-blowing that he looked as good as ever.
For that, Paganini and Troxler deserve a great deal of credit.
In Dubai, lengthy sessions, of at least two to three hours on the court for a month-long period, were supported by Federer’s stretching and core work in the gym.
He revealed that he completes these two key elements before stepping foot on to the court and emphasised how important the warm-up segment of his training regime is.
Dubai, simply, allows Federer to go about his business in privacy – and then achieve tennis and fitness goals in intensive training blocks.
Federer and his team’s approach to fitness has been a key ingredient in their catalogue of successes and will continue to be moving forward given the father of four has committed to playing until at least 2019.
Right now, after another gruelling week of travel that saw him launch the Laver Cup in Prague, Federer’s back in Dubai and will surely go about his business on court with more freedom than ever at this year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
For sure, he’ll be safe in the knowledge that he has that 18th slam on his mantelpiece and is hungry to achieve more.
Federer missed this tournament through injury last year so fans should relish the chance to see him back in action at the Aviation Club again.