Roger Federer on regaining the top spot and his “brutal” teenage years
Firstly, what are your reflections on your season this year?
It’s been a great year, I’ve played really well, been injury-free, been healthy. I’ve probably played a better year than I thought I was going to.
You recently competed at your 13th ATP World Tour Finals in London. How does the event compare to Wimbledon?
So different. It’s like day and night. The event’s wonderful, it’s prestigious – it’s the top eight. It’s got this real ‘boxing set-up’ feeling to it: the walk-in music,
the lights. But I prefer Wimbledon because of its history.
Did you get to go round London much this time?
Yes, they’ve got good Indian restaurants. I went to one the other night. I also went to the Tower Of London. The poppies are absolutely fantastic, unreal. The amount of people there was out of control, everybody taking pictures of the poppies. We also got to see the Crown Jewels, that was good fun.
Having won so much in your career, do you still feel you have anything left to prove?
I’ve got a lot of goals left. I want to be World No1 again. I’ve got the Davis Cup final, which I’ve never been in – we’re playing in front of 27,000 Frenchmen in Lille. That’s going to be spectacular.
Why did you return to the Davis Cup?
I never really left it, but it doesn’t have the same prestige it used to. This year, with Stan Wawrinka playing so well, I was always going to give it a shot. It will be very special for Swiss tennis. We made the final once before in 1992 against the USA, I remember watching it as an 11-year-old. It was a big deal. Unfortunately we played against Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe and Jim Courier – we didn’t win!
The Davis Cup has a football tournament feeling to it – are you a football fan?
I recently went to the Arsenal vs Anderlecht game that ended 3-3. I went with a friend who’s an Arsenal fan and I said to them, “Oh look, we’re three love up, the game’s over!” And then disaster struck! I don’t have a favourite English team, FC Basel is my one team. I remember when we played Tottenham a couple of years ago in the Europa League quarter-finals, the penalty shootout. I was watching it like this [puts his hands over his eyes], and we won!
How much has the tennis circuit changed since you started?
It’s different, definitely. The depth in the game is greater, the playing conditions have changed, they’re slower than when I started in the Nineties. Technology, too – racquets and strings. New players, new faces.
Are we in a golden age of men’s tennis?
A little bit. Any age is a good age. If you look back, the Björn Borg age was fantastic, McEnroe too. Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Sampras were all great. There are always these transitions, and every generation for me is like five, 10 years, so everybody’s always overlapping. But there’s no doubt that Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are two of the greatest players we’ve ever had.
How does Andy Murray’s style of play compare to yours?
It’s always a good match. He’s a bit more defensive, I’m a bit more offensive, but he plays more aggressively against me so I’ve got to go on the defensive, too. I think we’re more or less even head-to-head so it’s a good match-up.
Which one of your career rivalries is your favourite?
Murray, Djokovic, Rafa – all three guys I like playing against. They’re very entertaining and exciting. But I miss playing Lleyton Hewitt, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin. It was a dream to play the likes of Sampras, Agassi, Tim Henman and Carlos Moyá. For me, I’m nostalgic. I loved the time I was coming up and playing the guys I knew from TV. But I like playing this generation as well, and the new ones pushing through.
You used to be quite hot-headed on court. What changed?
Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. Eventually I told myself, “You’ve just got to be quiet, the way you’re acting isn’t cool.” So I changed it in 2001, I had that great run at Wimbledon when I beat Sampras [in the fourth round before losing to Henman in the quarter-finals] – but then I realised I was too calm. So I had to get the fire back into me. It took a couple of years to really figure it out. It was only in 2003 when I won Wimbledon that I found the right Zen, still being myself on the court, very focused.
Was that change integral to your success?
A little bit. It gave me more confidence, belief in my strength, knowing my weaknesses. As you know, the teenage years are just brutal. It’s very “arghhh”, everything’s crazy, you want to dye your hair red, have a beard, everything’s just insane. It was a very interesting period for me and I got to know myself very well.
If you became World No1 again how would you celebrate?
Oooh, that’d be huge. That’d be an absolute highlight. I’ve had a lot of highlights in my career, but that’d be the pinnacle. I’d probably put that over winning a grand slam because you can reach that within two weeks. Getting back to World No1 is an entire grind over a year. And for that I’d celebrate not once but many times with many different people. I’d open one of the best bottles in my wine cellar, a vintage Moët bottle from 2006 because that was one of my best years on tour.
Roger Federer is worldwide brand ambassador for Moët & Chandon
(Image: Rex Features)