Roger Federer talks to Benita Adesuyan about the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, his rivalry with Novak Djokovic and why he’s more optimistic than ever.
Roger Federer is considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time. With a strong right hand and killer backhand, the Swiss champion has won almost every grand slam title since the Open Era began. He’s here in Dubai to compete for the ATP World Tour trophy at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, taking place from Saturday February 22 to Saturday March 1 (the women’s WTA takes place Saturday February 15 to Saturday 22).
Federer, ranked as world number eight, has an ongoing rivalry with Novak Djokovic, defending champion and world number two. Having played each other 31 times, the pair have claimed nine of the last 11 Dubai titles and Federer is relishing the opportunity to serve up against the Serbian. ‘Novak will be a tough rival, he has done very well in Dubai in the past and so will Juan Martin del Potro, Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych.’ He adds. ‘Novak and I have had many great battles in the past. He always brings out the best in me. It is going to be a tough event with several top 10 players but I am going to try my best and hopefully I can win again.’
The 32-year-old Swiss is unfazed by his rivals and despite being blighted with back problems in 2013, he comes into the competition relaxed and optimistic. And as a frequent visitor to the emirate, he feels very comfortable playing here. ‘I really enjoy playing in Dubai, I have been coming back to the tournament for so many years and I have seen it grow, which is great. When I am not in Switzerland, I spend a lot of time in Dubai so I consider this sort of my home tournament too.’
Federer says he has had a good run of pre-season training ahead of the event and has recently had Swedish former world No.1 Stefan Edberg join his training team, in a move that Federer hopes will bring some extra bite into his play. ‘I looked up to Boris Becker and Stefan when I was growing up and it is fantastic I now work with Stefan so that he can share his knowledge with me. Boris and Stefan had aggressive, attacking styles that really inspired me.’
Despite Federer’s undoubted amazing roster of accomplishments and an ever-growing trophy cabinet, he still works hard at perfecting his game and never gets complacent – having Edberg join his team is a clear indication of that. For the man that has won seven Wimbledon championships and 17 singles grand slam championships, he assures us that there is still much more to come. ‘I have achieved much more than I ever thought I would but I feel there is still a lot left to achieve before I hang up my racquet. I love the sport so much so I will continue to play as long as I am healthy and in good form.’
So if any of his foes were hoping that Federer would be slowing down, they’d be very wrong. Despite the fierce competition on the court, the players on the tour also have a strong bond off it, too. ‘We spend a lot of time together in the locker room and travelling the tour in general. There is a good camaraderie among us players and I consider some of them to be my friends.’
Away from the court, Federer is a family man, and even on this leg of the tour, he’ll be accompanied by wife Mirka who is expecting their third child, and his four-year-old twin daughters Charlene and Myla. ‘I really like to play in front of my daughters and my family often travels with me so it is great to be able to relax with them when I finish a match or when I am done with practice. I also like to have friends visit Dubai as there are great restaurants and the weather is always great.’
Roger has previously said that he plays well when his wife is pregnant so baby number three could prove to be a lucky charm for him as he eyes up the prize in Dubai. ‘I would of course love to be in the final and if I meet Djokovic, it will be the match everyone looks forward to.’
It has been said that Federer is the hardest working man in tennis, but how does a champion who has won so much maintain his competitive edge? He says simply: ‘I love this game and I know I still have some great tennis in me to win more titles. I also like to try and improve and innovating my game is a challenge that I am enjoying. I just want to win more matches and titles – that would take me back to the top.’
Tickets from Dhs75. Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, Monday February 17-Saturday March 1. Dubai Tennis Stadium, Garhoud, www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com (04 417 2415).
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