Arriving straight from a practice session yet looking refreshed from his holidays, Roger Federer is a man with a clear vision on what he hopes to achieve in 2016.
Sat at the head of a table in a meeting room in a swanky Dubai hotel on Friday and talking to a handful of reporters, Federer is at his charming best when he discusses his upcoming participation in the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) in which he represents the UAE Royals franchise team.
The world No3 was about to fly to New Delhi, where he faces Rafael Nadal on Saturday in the IPTL, but had time to reflect on what has been an incredible 2015 season, in which he won six titles and reached five more finals – two of which came in grand slams, falling both times to Novak Djokovic.
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In his own words, 2015 was “nearly great” but there was just one main issue with it.
“The only problem was that Novak was extremely tough to beat, especially in the big occasions. He’s got sky-high confidence. We’ll hope one day that’s going to come down again, hopefully rather sooner than later,” Federer said frankly.
“I’m working hard to try to catch him, I’m working hard to become the best player I can be. I was very happy with this season even though I didn’t win a slam unfortunately.”
At 34 years old, and entering his 19th season as a professional, Federer is still looking for new ways to advance his game and remain at the top.
The Swiss star managed to get the maximum from his time working with Stefan Edberg over the past two seasons as he got himself back in the top two, reached three major finals and won 11 titles, thanks to some impressive form that was highlighted by an ultra-aggressive style of play, coupled with great consistency and a healthy body that failed him in 2013.
But as Federer’s time being coached by his Swedish idol has come to an end – he announced on Tuesday they were parting ways – the 17-time major champion is ready to listen to a new voice.
Federer has enlisted the help of ex-world No3 Ivan Ljubicic, who up until three years ago was the Swiss’ peer on tour, to replace Edberg, with Severin Luthi still acting as his main coach – as he has been for the past eight years.
Not only does Ljubicic have first-hand experience playing most of Federer’s on-court rivals, the 36-year-old Croat has also coached one of the main up-and-comers on tour, Canadian world No14 Milos Raonic.
“He’s got experience from the tour as a player, as a coach, he wants to win, he wants to make me a better player, he wants to be a great support within the team. Trust is really important,” Federer said of what Ljubicic brings to the table.
“I think it’s very exciting that he’s joined the team. I’ve known Ivan for a very long (time), very well. And because he’s played against a lot of the players I still play against today – it’s the first time I’ve had someone in my coaching staff who has done that. I’ve always worked with coaches who have played in a different generation, so I think number one that’s very exciting for me to hear him out.”
Federer feels finding a coach at this stage in his career has become a tough task, tougher than before. He says he and his fellow Swiss, Luthi, already “know a lot” and his team is such a well-oiled machine that having someone new come in is no mean feat.
The Federer camp is a big one, especially now that he travels around with his four children: twin daughters Myla Rose and Charlene Riva and twin sons Leo and Lenny.
On whether ATP shld support IPTL Fed said doesnt matter but “Im sure theyr happy we’re talkin about tennis right now pic.twitter.com/fk4E4q65Ps
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) December 12, 2015
Any coach he works with “needs to be to some extent a family man,” explains Federer. Ljubicic is a father of two.
“He needs to understand my world, my life, that’s why I think Stefan, Paul Annacone and everybody I almost worked with had kids as well. Which is helpful because they understand the process and they know how important family is, to them, and to me in particular, I’m a huge family person.”
Looking ahead to 2016, Federer is already eyeing a “much, much better” showing at the Australian Open after his shock third round exit to Andreas Seppi in Melbourne earlier this year.
“It was maybe the biggest disappointment of the year for me,” he reflects.
As someone who himself has enjoyed the kind of dominance Djokovic is having at the moment, Federer is well aware of the pressure that comes with winning everything.
“What I think Novak has done very well, all the weaknesses he’s erased them to some extent,” said Federer. “He plays with a lot of energy day-in, day-out. You make a lot of sacrifice, it’s not easy to keep that going. That’s why I think he’s going to be very, very good next year but it’s tough to duplicate a season like that.
“People are going to expect him to win everything again next year, but everybody is working extremely hard to make that not happen as well. So he’s going to have extra pressure. I know he’s going in as the favourite but that also sometimes wears on you to some extent.”
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) December 11, 2015
Beyond Melbourne, Federer has high hopes for next season although he would not rank his goals in a priority list.
While he hasn’t been able to add a major title to his name since his 2012 Wimbledon triumph, he concedes that “once you win seven Wimbledons, I think for the rest of your life, if you’re healthy and you love tennis, which I do, you always believe you can win Wimbledon again. And I’ve come very close for the last couple of years.”
Rio 2016 is another big target, as he bids for a first Olympic gold in singles and third medal overall. Federer confirmed he’ll be playing mixed doubles with Martina Hingis, as they team up for the first time since their Hopman Cup success in 2001.
The void Federer – and other members of the ‘Big Four’ – will leave once they all retire from the game is causing many tennis fans to hyperventilate as barely any of the younger players have shown they are ready to step up.
But Federer insists there is no need to worry.
“I don’t think that it’s going to be a problem. There’s always going to be transitions in our game. It’s always happened,” he said.
“Our game creates superstars. The grand slams continue to roll, the Masters 1000s somebody has got to win them, it’s how it works. There is going to be a next superstar, who that is? It’s really hard to tell right now. The game is bigger than any player.”
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