Great players don’t always make great coaches but in Roger Federer’s case, it looks like the Swiss is a natural at both.
Federer briefly put on his coaching hat on Friday when he approached the bench and gave Alexander “Sascha” Zverev some advice during the German’s match against Denis Shapovalov in the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague.
The video of that on-court coaching visit has gone viral of course as Federer reminded Zverev to stay closer to the baseline after the return of serve.
And while on-court coaching on the WTA tour has been criticised by many, the way Federer’s brief pep talk was received indicates perhaps how big of a hit it is with tennis fans.
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) September 22, 2017
Asked how much he’s been enjoying having an advisory role during this Laver Cup, and whether the experience has piqued his interest in perhaps turning to coaching in the future, Federer quickly cut me off and said with a laugh: “Yeah, 40 weeks a year, not so much.
“No, I mean, look, I always try to be at the service of the team, and if I can give some advice, I’m happy to do so, even more so with the younger guys who are going to go through more emotions, ups and downs, and maybe a bit of advice from myself or Rafa (Nadal) or somebody else, it’s just going to settle your nerves and give you a better understanding that maybe you’re not doing so bad.
“It is a first round. Don’t expect yourself to hit every ball in the corners yet. Really trying to calm down the nerves sometimes. I only feel I should be up there if I can be of any help.
“In the Davis Cup you sit much closer to the coaching bench, so there I would always try to speak to the captain and interact with him and then also try to help the players as much as possible. It’s just something I like doing.
“In the future, a coach? I’m not sure. I’m always going to be helping juniors along the way. A touring coach, it’s going to be hard for me with four kids that need me more than the coaching needs me.”
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal has also paid a visit or two to the bench to support his Europe team-mates and Dominic Thiem admits having the Spaniard and Bjorn Borg give him advice during his match was an “unbelievable” experience.
“They were cheering me up, which was unbelievably nice,” said the 24-year-old Austrian.
“I mean, it was, I think, unbelievable great experience for me and for all the other guys to see these two legends.
“They really have great team spirit. I mean, we saw them on the bench how they were going with us and everything in the first match and also in mine.
“So this was really nice to see, and that they came down was amazing. It was already a big boost that they were cheering me up.”
Zverev, 20, explained how hanging out with his team-mates Nadal and Federer has involved the pair recalling many stories from their past battles.
“Oh, there has been a lot. Rafa and Roger have been talking about I think the Wimbledon final that they played in 2008, the Wimbledon final before that they played, as well, those kind of things,” said Zverev.
“Also, all around, other subjects, not only tennis, other subjects that they have opinions on. It was quite fun.”
Roger Federer admits stepping up for the doubles with Rafael Nadal on Saturday night at the Laver Cup in Prague will be “difficult” but he is relishing the opportunity of teaming up with his long-time rival.
Federer has not played doubles in two years — since a Davis Cup World Group play-off against the Netherlands in 2015 — and he acknowledges the adjustment it requires from him.
The prospect of Federer and Nadal playing doubles together has been heavily promoted from the second the idea of the Laver Cup was first announced during the 2016 Australian Open.
It is a sight fans have been longing to witness — in a competitive capacity — and it will finally happen in the Czech capital on Saturday night when Federer and Nadal represent Team Europe against Team World’s Jack Sock and Sam Querrey.
“Yes, it’s going to be difficult. Unfortunately, it’s the truth,” Federer told reporters of the challenge of playing doubles, after defeating Querrey 6-4, 6-2 to extend Team Europe’s lead over Team World on Saturday.
“But, you know, I think doubles is very much a return, a serve, a volley, there. We saw the doubles yesterday.
“You could argue that Sock and Kyrgios were a tiny bit better maybe, especially in the beginning, but at the end, they still had to — they were at, I don’t know, 6-All in the super-tiebreaker and anything could happen.
“I think it’s going to be very much an intensity and energy situation for us tonight. I don’t worry about Rafa, to be honest. And me being next to Rafa, I know that I’ll be moving around, as well. So I just have to, you know, kind of find my groove, I guess, to some extent.”
For a pair of fierce rivals, Federer and Nadal have maintained a friendly relationship over the years and as they inch closer towards the ends of their careers, they’ve managed to be more about their friendship and have helped each other raising funds for their respective foundations and with other ventures like the Laver Cup – in Federer’s case – and the launching the Rafa Nadal Academy.
Asked if he has discovered anything new about Nadal having spent a lot of time with him closely during the Laver Cup this week, Federer said: “I think the very, very new situation will be (being) on the same side of him in a doubles that is going to be ultra competitive. That’s going to be the real changer.
“Other than that, you know, I have played charity matches with him, so that’s when you’re very laid back and, you know, you’re happy raising funds. You know, you also want to have a good time. Loads of things to do. You know, that’s when I got to know his family, and like when I went last year to his academy, all these things are on a very relaxed level.
“So I know Rafa for so long that I have seen his relaxed mode. Now I have seen him sort of preparing, you know, within a team, and I can see he’s a wonderful team player. He always thinks of the team members first. That’s wonderful.
“Then he’s just got great energy and a good balance. I think that’s why he has longevity, to be honest, because he’s ultra intense when he gets on the court. Once the camera goes on to him, he’s in that mode. But actually, away from it, he’s very relaxed.
“I feel like I’m the same way. I think like you can only manage it this way when you want to achieve longevity.
“Yeah, he’s a joy to be around. I’m happy that he’s on our side of the team, to be honest.”
* Video footage courtesy of Laver Cup
Alexander Zverev can easily have a career as a Master of Ceremony if the tennis thing doesn’t work out as the German gave the perfect introduction to Roger Federer during the Laver Cup gala night on Thursday in Prague.
Zverev, who is 16 years younger than Federer, recalled a time when he met the Swiss legend as a five-year-old at the Hamburg Masters, where he asked him for his autograph.
“I was just looking at him, ‘can I please have an autograph?’He was ‘like, yeah sure’…” said Zverev.
“He started responding to me in German, which back then, as a kid, I didn’t know that Swiss people speak German. So you know, that was very nerve-wracking, so I got his autograph, he started talking to me, he said ‘well maybe if you work hard, one day we might be playing each other, somewhere’.
“And I was like, ‘well yeah, maybe’ (laughter). But no chance you could have known that we would have been on one team.
“So please welcome 19-time Grand Slam champion, Roger Federer.”
Federer gave Rafael Nadal an equally-impressive introduction, recalling the time the Spaniard beat him in their first-ever meeting in Miami.
Watch the video above for highlights from the gala night and footage of their introductions.