On Monday, Roger Federer held a press conference on the grounds of the MercedesCup. He talked about his expectations for the ATP grass court tournament at Stuttgart’s Weissenhof, the fight for the no. 1 spot in the world rankings and the eleventh French Open title for Rafael Nadal.
How does it feel to be back? How do you see the battle for becoming no. 1?
RF: It’s a great pleasure to be here again. I have experienced some great years, even though they were not as successful as I would have wished. Two years ago I had problems with my knee and there was also a lot of rain. Last year there was the loss against Tommy. This year sure feels special because I have the chance to take back the no. 1 position in the world. Most weeks during the season you don’t talk about that because the positions are clear. But when it’s this close things obviously change. I’ve been gone for some months and now I have to find my way back step by step. Matches here are always very close affairs. There is no easy draw, thought that would be nice. I think the courts are in great shape, better than last year. I’m really excited about this week.
Which of the two Michaels would you prefer in your first match?
RF: Maybe Youzhny as I’ve got a good Head-to-Head with him. But there were some close matches. Mischa (Zverev) is always dangerous. For me, they are both pretty even and they play well on grass. That’s the most important thing: you have to like to play on this surface. It’s going to be tough because both will already have played a match here, but I’m feeling fine and it was great to practice here.
How would you rate Nadal’s triumph in Paris?
RF: Absolutely amazing. There really are only superlatives left. To win a tournament 11 times is unbelievable. I didn’t get to see a lot of the final because I was traveling to Stuttgart first and then I already practiced. He didn’t have to prove anything to anybody in Paris and still he did it again. A real champion. All the players on the tour can only take a bow before Rafa. It’s really fantastic.
Wouldn’t it be a greater challenge to take on Nadal in Paris then win Wimbledon for the umpteenth time?
RF: For me, Wimbledon still is the ne plus ultra on the tour. If I had to choose I’d always take Wimbledon. For me it’s much more than just the head-to-head against Nadal. I have a lot to think about. There’s my health and people tend to forget that I have four kids. I also need to take a break from time to time. I did it last year and it did me good. Like this, I hope to get enough energy in my battery to play the rest of the season. Of course, I’d like to have a chance to challenge for the Paris title, but maybe that’ll come up again next year or the year after. I have to think hard and long about playing the clay court season next year. I guess I will know in the fall, after the US Open how my tournament plan for next year will look like.
Did you seriously think about playing on clay this year in the last fall?
RF: Last year was a different situation. I had won Melbourne and Miami and had the feeling that I would be able to have a longer preparation for the French Open. Then I felt I should just skip it, because it didn’t make sense to go to Paris without enough practice tournaments before. My team and I then pretty quickly decided that it wouldn’t make sense for me. That was the decision. This year I wanted to know what we would do before the clay court season. I wanted to have holidays with my kids, more time to practice etc. I decided to skip the clay court season directly after Miami. I was able to get a lot of things done. The holidays were great, I was able to practice well for three months and there were no setbacks. Still, it’s strange for me to skip a Grand Slam tournament. All of my career I have played each and every Grand Slam tournament. But after my knee injury I can assess better what my body needs and that is why my decision making is different today.
Will Nadal be your strongest opponent in Wimbledon?
RF: Yes, I guess so. He’ll be in great shape for Wimbledon. Otherwise I haven’t thought too much about who could be favorite. Rafa’s won Wimbledon twice, so he’s no one trick pony. He’s become better from year to year. He’s playing more aggressive and better on fast surfaces. He’s not only the king of clay, he can play well everywhere. Then you also have Cilic, Del Potro and, I hope, Novak will come back strong. He has already shown good tennis this year. I also hope that Murray and Stan will come back. And I’ve probably forgotten one or two players now…
What about Alex Zverev? What are your expactations for Stutttgart?
RF: Yes, Alex – he’s one of those I forgot before. I think he will have a good year. He’s learned a lot from his five set matches in Paris. He’s already played great in Miami. He’s also shown how great he can play on grass. His service and his return open up all possibilities for him.
My goal is to win the tournament. But it’s always like that. Than you see the draw and how difficult it will be. So the euphoria is dialed down in favor of a sense of reality. I try to take it match for match, set for set, point for point. And that’s good! I’m really looking forward to the tournament, but there are no guarantees. The court is very good and already reminds me a lot of Wimbledon. I think it will suit me just fine.
Are the stories true that you will change your outfit from Nike to Uniqlo?
RF: Those are just rumours. What is true, and that’s no secret is that my contract with Nike has run out in March. We are negotiating right now and that’s all I have to say about it. But you will certainly be the first to hear from me, once there are news.
How did you prepare in the past weeks?
RF: I played more tennis than spend time in the gym. Everything was fine. I took some vacations – first Miami, than – after my first conditioning stint – I went to Africa for my foundation. The last month I spent practicing. I had various sparring partners who came to Switzerland and Dubai. I was very happy, we also were lucky with the weather which was better than last year. I’m feeling ready and fresh. The last weeks I spent in Switzerland.
Can you imagine a life without tennis? What makes you go on? Another record? Vanity?
RF: No, the most important thing is having fun playing tennis. Sometimes, but very rarely, I play a tournament without my family. There’s still this feeling after a victory or when you hear the fans chanting and make them happy. I also want to prove to myself and my team that I can still win a tournament or defend a title. Of course, records are also great. It would be nice to become no. 1 again and raise that record to a new level. As long as my family is ok with me playing tennis – and it seems they are, as my kids like to travel and my wife always has my back – it all just is so much fun. But obviously, the end is nearer than ever before. But I truly don’t know when it will be over. It will certainly be interesting after my career, I’m sure of that. And it will be fun. Especially with my kids. Once they go to school it’ll be more serious. Yes, I’m pretty intrigued myself. I hope, no, I’m sure that the transition will go pretty smoothly. But, of course, you can never be sure.
How big is your motivation, now that Nadal won Paris again?
RF: To be honest, I was sure he would win the French Open. So I just have to deal with a situation I knew would arise. I have to make the finals to take back the no. 1 spot. But last year I lost early, so I take it step by step now. After last year’s loss to Tommy I didn’t drop a set during the grass season. I hope I’ll find my game earlier this year.