You’d think after picking up six titles in Dubai, Roger Federer would feel comfortable commencing his title defence at the Aviation Club today. After all, he is the most successful player in the tournament’s 23-year history.
But having not played a match since his third round Australian Open defeat to Andreas Seppi last month, Federer has not competed in 30 days and explained how taking a lengthy break is a double-edged sword.
“I know it’s going to be tough because I’ve had a long break,” Federer said in Dubai yesterday ahead of his first round match against former finalist Mikhail Youzhny today.
“One of the longer ones I’ve had in years but it was necessary because I did feel I was playing a lot of tennis, the last sort of six to eight months.
“I couldn’t take the necessary rest I wanted to at the end of the season because of Davis Cup. And I wanted to make sure I stay in rhythm, keep playing matches or practice, and I think it was the right thing to do.
“But then I needed that rest I was looking for, and now I’ve got it. So now the comeback might be a bit more difficult. But I thought the same once I had a two-week vacation after the US Open last year, after Davis Cup in the semis. And I came back and won Shanghai.
“There’s a bit more uncertainty maybe going into a tournament after a long break but at the same time you come back refreshed and it might take one or two matches to really get rolling. That’s where you need an okay draw. You just need to fight your way through your first few matches and then hope you play better.
“Here in Dubai, historically, it’s always been difficult to play very well from the get-go just because conditions are fast.”
Federer, 33, went to Melbourne feeling he could really do something special at the Australian Open and perhaps capture and elusive 18th grand slam title. But his shock loss to Seppi dashed those hopes.
“It was just a bad match for me. I was not good enough, the way I played,” he said of his defeat to the Italian. “The wind was a bigger problem for me than for him. I started to play carefully and then in the end I paid the price for that.
“That night I celebrated with champagne with my team, thanking Seppi as I had got nine days extra off. That’s how I see it. You get some additional time for practice as well to be hopeful of coming back stronger.”
Federer’s stellar 2014 season saw him rise to No2 in the world, thanks to a runner-up showing at Wimbledon and a total of five trophies.
By the end of the year, he had a chance to replace Novak Djokovic as world No1 but the Serb finished 2014 with a bang, winning Beijing, Paris and the ATP World Tour Finals to deny Federer a return to the top spot.
For this season, Federer feels the No1 ranking is far from his reach. He trails Djokovic by almost 4,000 points in the standings.
“I knew that I had to win the Australian Open to get a shot at being world No1 again,” explained the Swiss. “For the moment that is totally out of the question as I am too far away from Novak. He is playing very well at the moment, so it is back to normal. Just go on playing week after week and try to get the best possible results.”
Tomas Berdych's final push in search of greater rewards
Tomas Berdych feels like he is making one last attempt to boost his game and career as he hopes to transition from being a regular top-10 player to a serious contender at majors and a challenger to the ‘Big Four’.
Berdych, who after beating Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open quarter-finals last month, is just one of two players – alongside Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – to beat every member of the ‘Big Four’ at a grand slam, hired Andy Murray’s former hitting partner Dani Vallverdu as his coach at the end of last season, concluding his six-year partnership with Tomas Krupa.
Linking up with Vallverdu has already started to pay dividends as Berdych started his 2015 season by making the final in Doha, the semis in Melbourne and the final in Rotterdam.
“I feel really good. I would have felt much better if I had at least one title under my belt, but I think there are many new things that I am trying to put into my game and I can already feel that they are working well,” said Berdych.
At 29, Berdych has spent the last four and a half years consistently in the top 10. A year after teaming up with Krupa in 2009, he made his first and only grand slam final, finishing as runner-up at Wimbledon.
He feels his decision to change his coach was both bold yet necessary. “I got to a stage where my team could not be helpful in the way I wanted them to be. I needed a change if I want to get better,” said the world No8, who faces Jeremy Chardy on Tuesday.
“It’s nice to spend four, five years among the top 10 but the years are passing by and this could be my last opportunity to change something and try to go higher and aim for bigger results. That’s why I made this decision. Bringing Dani to my team, I believe he is the right person with all the experience that he has.”
The Czech also knows he must work on his fitness if he plans on causing any real damage.
“I think it is always going to start with the fitness. I am a tall guy, quite a heavy guy and when you want to compete with guys like Andy (Murray), Novak (Djokovic), Rafa (Nadal) and Roger (Federer), you are going to have to be extremely fit and prepared for that,” he said. “So that’s the reasons why I am saying you cannot just play at that level for a set or two when you are at the slams. You have to be ready to play at that level for five sets, no matter what’s going on.”