Turning 30 was a milestone well worth celebrating for Roger Federer, who can look back with pride and forward with optimism as he eyes new turning points in his private and professional life. Tennis’ most prolific champion talks candidly and exclusively to Georges Homsi about his record-breaking career and the achievements that could complete it.
Roger, you have often expressed your excitement about still playing and competing. Having recently turned 30 you’re obviously not excited for the exact same reasons as when you were 20. Can you compare both situations?
Yes, it’s actually quite different. When you are 20 and you get a chance to play on a big court, you know the people are not there because of you most likely. They are there because they have centre court tickets, and maybe because of your opponent, and maybe because they love tennis, and maybe it’s for the chance of seeing a young guy coming up. Whereas today, with everything I achieved, I guess you feel like most people might be here mostly because of yourself. And you can also hear it the way they are behind you. So it’s completely different. It fells like two different careers really.
This makes me enjoy it so much today when I think of all the hard work I put in for so many years. Not trying to be popular, but trying to enjoy the tour, trying to achieve things, trying to get the opportunity to play as much as I can on the big courts. I have been able to do that, and now I sort of always get the opportunity to shine in the limelight, although maybe, who knows, I also sometimes have to go on the smaller courts once in a while maybe, but even that is OK because I’ve had so many great moments. I think that’s what I take back from those last 10 years. [It’s] great luck really that I had that opportunity, and today I can enjoy it so much more, because I put in all such a great effort all these last 10 years.
Would you say the excitement is as strong as before, or not quite?
It’s different. Yeah, the excitement is exactly the same if not bigger, but it’s different, just because I don’t have that pressure of having, sort of to prove myself every single day, even though I do. But I am not a teenager anymore where I cry after every single match, I’m not a teenager where I don’t know where my limits are. I used to be very erratic, very emotional. Today I’m much more settled. I know where I came from, I know what I’ve done, I know what I still want to achieve and I know how to do it. So I’m much more in a safe place. OK, sometimes it takes the fun away as well, because back then, I’d be so shocked that I would all of a sudden win a big match which I never thought I could, and other times, would lose matches which I thought were unlosable. Today I no longer go through those massive fluctuations, because I put in my very best effort every single time. When I was younger, as a teenager, I didn’t, because I couldn’t, because I was mentally too weak or too up-and-down.
We went back 10 years; let’s go back yet another 10 years. You were already playing tennis as a 10-year-old; do you remember how exciting your life was back then, and how much you wanted to make tennis your career?
Yes, I was still playing soccer and tennis at the time. But tennis sort of was my bigger love … just because I was having more success earlier, I was a bit better, I was in control of whether I was going to win or lose. But I also loved the idea of a team competition you know, playing soccer. In tennis I have quick success early in my area around Basel. I was already then called one of the next good talents in the region and so forth. Then you go from region to bigger region, to national and so forth. These were exciting times, in the beginning enjoying yourself, and going through tennis and school at the same time, that was a very different lifestyle than the one I live today, but I loved my time back in Basel with all my friends I had there … these were very happy times. I would want to have my childhood exactly the same again if given the choice.
How do you see your life at 40?
I see 40 as a very good age too. I think 30 and 40 are very good ages, in fact in the 20-30-40 span is great, not that 50 is bad. In fact at 50 you are still very fit and you can still do any sport you want, but I think that being 30 or 40 with the healthy lifestyle I lead, as many people do, you are in a very good place. You know where you want to go, you know what you have achieved.
It will be interesting to see what the next 10 years bring. How long will I be playing, how much time is that going to be taking from me, and then after that, what am I going to be doing. Will I be moving into business, how much will I be staying in tennis, you know … I know I will be very much involved with my foundation, but I don’t know where I will have settled with the family, and all those things.
It’s going to be very interesting to see where life will take me. Many questions actually to a degree, but interesting questions and I look forward to it all.
When you say ‘I know what I have achieved’ it makes me wonder how often you look back in the past and say: ‘wow, I love to reflect on what I have achieved…’
I would say I live more in the present. I mean it calms me down knowing what I have done, and I think it helps my game, not being too stressed out about all sorts of things you know, maybe what the press wrote, or maybe about a potential sponsorship, or about travelling and hustle and bustle, or having to deal with new things, or having to say yes or no to red carpet events which at the beginning was very stressful. I don’t have to do all those things anymore. Or I don’t worry about them anymore. I am much more in a calm place, my team has grown, I have different problems than those I had 10 year ago, but they’re all under control, and today, I’m a man who can take decisions myself, whereas 15 years ago, almost every decision was taken by someone else, except when I was on a tennis court.
Is there anything that bothers you in life today?
Sure it would be nice to be more at home, and have more of a settled life at times. When I do get two and a half weeks at home, in one place, in my four walls, it’s like: are you kidding me? Is this real right now? Am I getting so much time away from it all?
Obviously I wish sometimes I could get two months in a row, but you know, I know what it is, I know I can’t change it, and I know I have that many more years to go, and then eventually tennis over, and I’ll be home everyday if I want to. That’s why I really want to enjoy and go travel, and actually go play, and live it you know, and not stay and sit on the sidelines. I think in the long-term, my planning is somewhat moderate in terms of playing, but then of course like on a day to day, I do have two hours of press, plus two hours of practice, plus some treatment, and it ends up being pretty full days, and somewhat stressful too, because I’m being pulled left and right, and them maybe fans screaming in my ear, which I do enjoy, but it’s just too much sometimes too. So yeah, life has changed quite a bit.
Do you recall the last time you felt really annoyed or even angry?
Yeah, it happens sometimes. I mean with the life we live on tour, with the kids, with the stress sometimes … I mean I’m a very calm person, and it takes a lot to get me upset. So it’s been a really long time since I was really upset, but moments when I’m a little upset happen, because I think we could do things differently. With the kids we always go through those days, especially at the age they are right now. You have to agree with your wife and your team how you want to decide the day, and, I don’t want to say you get into an argument, but they are very emotional kids now at two years of age, they carry their heart on their sleeve right now, so it’s very interesting, and sometimes it makes it difficult to be calm. But I think through tennis, I am able to handle the situation pretty well.
Has there ever been a moment where you thought: “What am I still doing here?”
No, not really. Except if the body is really hurting too much. Like for example if I can’t tie my shoes anymore. It happened when I played James Blake in Paris. This is when you’re like: ‘Is it really worth it, to go through this pain just to play tennis?’ But that’s like one day, and then you’re like ‘of course it’s worth it. I mean for sure!’ I’ve had (most) other days of the year when I was feeling great. So just because of one quick day where it was a bit grey and foggy in my mind because of an injury.
Overall it’s been all good. Honestly, I’ve been very fortunate with injuries, but I think that injuries can really throw you back more than you think, especially later in your career.
Are there big differences in your lifestyle and the way you take care of your body from, say, five or 10 years ago?
I think the last five years have been somewhat the same, because I was already two years, three years world No.1. So I kind of knew what worked. I have always been a very healthy person, I haven’t been going to whatever parties, and not sleeping enough and all those things. Not ever really. So I have always lived a very professional lifestyle.
The only thing which is a little bit unfortunate, I don’t want to say it takes the fun out of it, but you know what I mean, is that when you get older, you become a bit more careful. So I used to go skiing, I used to go play soccer, I used to go play squash, I used to go play ping-pong, I would do all these things. And maybe they would make me tired at times, but it was worth it because I had a lot of fun doing them.
Today you’re like ‘you know what, I’m not going to mess up my career playing another sport, because I can still play that sport when I’m 35 or 40 years old’. I know I’ll still be fit enough to do that. So let’s just not take a chance, you know. So you start taking treatments instead of doing that fun stuff. I mean treatment is nice, but every single day, it becomes a bit tough at times. I don’t expect you to feel bad for me, I know it’s wonderful thing to have, but it becomes a bit just sort of that situation where just how much treatment can you have? And that’s why, I always make sure that even if sometimes I feel like I should have treatment, once in a while I’m like, you know what, I’m not going to have any. Because I can’t. Mentally it’s not good for me to do all these stretching, massages, exercises, whatever. I just think it’s important to keep the mind sort of fresh and ready.
Your two main rivals today are Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Can you tell us what you admire about each of those players?
Well, I guess in essence it’s the same thing, they’re great competitors, great movers and great ball strikers if you are talking tennis, they both have something extra special. But then again Rafa has even something more, just because of his results, what he’s been able to show over such a long period of time. Novak’s … nothing near that really. I mean even though has been very successful, let’s be honest. Rafa’s been doing that for a very long time now, and he’s basically almost the same age. He was one of the greatest teenagers ever, you know with Björn Borg.
To me he deserves a lot of respect. But I also think that Novak’s run … I also have a lot of respect for that. His reaction after losing the  US Open finals which was a huge chance, playing Rafa there, and maybe being the favourite was great. Instead of sticking his head in the sand after losing that final, he came out of it and sort of went on a tear. This was very nice to see.
Personality-wise, I know Rafa much better than Novak. Through the [ATP Player] council, even though Novak was on the council too, but I do speak to Rafa more. I’ve played exhibitions with Rafa, so I’ve seen him more on a laid-back sort of atmosphere. I’ve been on flights with him. I just came on the same flight now from Zurich, so we tend to run into each other so many times, and we’ve done so many things together to promote the game, that I really know Rafa well as he’s a very nice guy.
As for Novak, I don’t know him quite as well. I never practiced with him, I never spent leisure time with him. I just know him from the locker room, from the pressers, and from the tournaments, and he seems like a very nice guy. A funny guy, and I have no problem with him either, which is nice.
Ken Rosewall won a Grand Slam tournament at 37 years of age. Do you believe that’s still do-able in today’s game?
I think so. It depends on where you’re coming from and … every player is different you know. Were the times different when Rosewall played? Clearly. And they played three Grand Slam tournaments on grass and one on clay which was not as brutal a surface as today. I think it must be possible to do it, but usually at 37, it’s not the game that let’s you go, but it’s more the mind and body