DUBAI, February 24 – Roger Federer has devised a plan to help him recover from his Australian Open shock last month, a third round setback which had doom-mongers claiming the game’s greatest would never win a major title again.
“The body needed some healing and the mind needed some refreshing,” the 33-year-old Grand Slam record-holder admitted after returning to the tour at the Dubai Open with a reassuring 6-3, 6-1 win over Mikhail Youzhny.There are three main ingredients – a game plan, a tournament plan, and a short-term psychological plan. The last, already completed, is the most surprising.
It caused Federer to deal with the Melbourne defeat by Andreas Seppi, an Italian outside the world’s top 30, by celebrating it.
“That night I had Champagne with my team and said ‘this is thanks to Seppi – I got like nine more days off!’” Federer said.
“It gave me more time off, so I was actually thankful to Seppi!” Federer added.
“So that’s how I see it. Nine more days off allowed me more time for practice, and I knew that I was hoping to come back stronger.
“That’s the (immediate) goal after a loss like that. All you do is think how to bounce back as quick as possible and as strong as possible. I’ve actually been playing very well in the last six months.”
During that time Federer has come close to winning a Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic, and ended 2014 strongly as world number two after beating Djokovic in the Shanghai final.
– Longer-term –
His game also evolved into one depending less on his outstanding powers of containment.
Federer’s longer-term response has revolved around whether his shock defeat mainly had specific causes or wider implications. There was a bit of both.
“It was just a bad match, for me,” Federer said. “It was just one of those things that I won the points that I shouldn’t have and lost the points that I should have won, and the margins were small.”
The longer-term conclusion is however probably more important.
It places more emphasis on what he had already been attempting: risking a more attacking brand of tennis more often.
“I wasn’t able to play offensive enough for some reason,” he said. “I played more carefully. The wind was more of a problem for me than for him (Seppi) and at the end I paid a price for that.”
This was something he was able immediately to rectify, by a happy coincidence, during his forceful win against Youzhny because the conditions on Monday were similarly tricky to Melbourne’s.
“The last thing I wanted to do is lose back‑to‑back matches playing carefully,” Federer commented.
“I know I can play careful tennis, but you cannot leave it up to other guys if you are going to win or lose. Over the years I have won my biggest matches by playing on my terms.”
– Hanging back –
Federer emphasised that in Dubai he wanted to play more often “on top of the baseline,” to accept that this might mean playing more half‑volleys, and, if possible, to come more to the net.
Except perhaps on the European clay, we are not likely to see Federer hanging back too much during 2015.
He has also rationalised his schedule not only for the rest of this year, but beyond. “I mean, pretty much I know everything till – Jesus – summer of ’16,” he said.
He has replaced one or two tournaments to create a change of environment, and relinquished Davis Cup commitments.
Instead of playing at the high level 1000 category tournament in Miami next month, he will play closer to home in Istanbul, and the build-up to the French Open will see him play in Madrid and not Monte Carlo.
It still seems remarkable given that Federer is the oldest player in the top 20 and tours with a wife and four children.
Asked how he stayed motivated after achieving everything he wished for on a tennis court over more than a decade and a half, Federer replied: “It kind of always re-sets you know.”
Whatever happens Federer won’t relinquish dreams of more big titles any time soon. But he may just do things a little differently.