Roger Federer’s record 16 Grand Slam titles are proof that nice guys do occasionally finish first. But, aside from giddying natural talent, what other elements have helped him to nearly 10 years of serve-smashing dominance? ShortList met the unfailingly polite star in a Swiss hotel to talk medicine balls and, surprisingly, Metallica...
Is there a part of your regime that you’re particularly fond of?
Interval training. You run 30 seconds, have a break for 30 seconds, then do it all over again. I can do that at a high pace for a long time. I’m not quite as good at continuous running, because [during a tennis match] we always play in short bursts, then wait 15, 20 seconds to play the next point. Interval bursts keep you fit, and are fun.
Is there anything you’re not great at?
I’m terrible at push-ups. I never do them. If you could do 100 in a row I’d be so impressed. That to me is like the ultimate fitness test. My coach was doing 650 every day in January — he was completely broken at the end.
Do tennis players need to do any conditioning, or is it all fitness?
I actually quite like to do weights. I don’t do normal repetitions because it’s more important for me to have explosive endurance for all those quick bursts I was talking about. So I don’t lift just one weight, I vary it.
What sort of things do you recommend?
I do three sets of 7-12 [reps]. I work on my quads then I combine that with some jumps. Or you could work your upper body by using a medicine ball with maybe 10 quick throws to motivate you. So you keep doing combinations, which means you can go back and forth and keep it interesting.
How often do you train?
In terms of tennis playing, there are periods when I play every day for almost 40 days in a row. But then there are times when I don’t play at all for two or maybe even four weeks. The change is that drastic. But that’s what I need to bounce out of the craziness of this world, especially on tour. There’s a lot of fitness work I do while playing, but I’d rather [train] in extremes than let it linger on without a break from practice. Especially now I have a family, as it’s good to get away and spend time with them.
Have you ever struggled with boredom while training?
I used to be a terrible trainer. As a teenager, I was horrible, I couldn’t stay focused. I was the ‘Why?’ man — “Why do we do that, why do we do that?” But then I eventually understood why I was doing all those weights. I understood why I did the running and everything else. Eventually, it all made sense and it made me happy. That motivated me when I was having to get up at 7am to do weights and play tennis. It wasn’t always fun, but I knew the light was at the end of the tunnel.
Do you listen to music while you are training?
When I do weights, there’s usually a lot of music. But when I go for a run, I focus on the running. I grew up on trance, dance music, which actually works out well for fitness, and then I got into the whole rock’n’roll, Metallica, AC/DC, that kind of thing. I like to listen to it loud.
What food do you eat to help you in your training?
The complicated thing is that because of the travelling, you always want to grab the safe bet — and the safe bet is always pasta. But it’s the thing that’s worked for me. I eat pasta almost every time before I play and it always helps — it fills me up but it doesn’t overfill me.
Have you ever had any memorable training blunders?
I was playing tennis once and my friend was serving. Just as he was about to toss the ball up — and I’m not kidding — a bird flew in and sat on the net. He hit the bird with the ball, it fell on my side and there were feathers everywhere. What are the chances of that happening? I saw the bird coming and said, “Don’t hit!” but it was too late.
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