From childhood I have been able to have conversations in my head between people I don’t know, and to put them into scenarios of my own creation. I mentioned this to my partner the other evening, and his response was, “Well, why don’t you have your own imaginary interview with your man Federer then?” Do something useful with your strange inclinations, he was saying, and I thought it seemed like a good idea.
What would we love to ask Roger? Here’s how my little trip into the realm of magical realism would go….
Question: So Roger, let’s cut right to the chase, shall we? And ask the question we’re all burning to know about you…you’re a great dancer, aren’t you? You just love cutting a rug…
Federer: Well, if you’re saying you like my moves on court, why that’s a good thing I guess. I don’t know if it’s a fox trot or what, maybe a rumba. Some guys make you dance faster than other players. (smiling) As for just dancing, well, you know, maybe you should ask Mirka, I may have stepped on her feet once or twice.
Question: Well speaking of dancing, you know you’ve gotten lots of opportunities over the last couple of years. At Wimbledon the winner gets to dance with the winning woman, so you’ve had an interesting array of partners. Tell me, what’s the conversation like when the leading man and the leading woman get together on the dance floor?
Federer: (smiling) I don’t think anyone’s asked that before…
Question: We’re pretty sure they haven’t, but we feel tennis is more than just about the play, Roger. We need the gossip too. Come on, spill some beans for us.
Federer: This must be another American expression I have to learn.
Question: Well, that’s only fair, after all, you come to our shores and you beat our best guys, in fact you beat ALL the guys, and you’ve had a great run on American turf. If you play your cards right, you could become an honorary citizen. I know many of us would go to bat for you on that one.
Federer: I don’t think I should give away the details, just ordinary talk mostly. Maybe a little…how do we get out of here and into our tennis clothes. And some of my partners have been taller than me, without their high heels. I have to watch myself.
Question: Of your leading ladies, who’s the best dancer?
Federer: Oh, well you know, I definitely should not say anything, I want to live, you know (smiling)
Question: Well, speaking of movement on the floor, or on the court, you have been described as just about the best mover in the game today. But I don’t think of you as being “fast” the way Rafael moves on court –
Federer: In terms of speed, yes, Rafa is probably faster –
Question: So it’s possible to say, you’re the best mover out there even though you may not be the fastest guy – you do what you need to do almost without much effort at all. Maybe because it takes you so little effort, it almost seems like you don’t have to work hard at all –
Federer: I wish it felt that way, from my end it feels like a lot of work.
Question: Well, it seems that you appear almost magically where you need to be on court. McEnroe was like that, I remember, you would look up and suddenly, he’s gone from the back of the court to the net, in an instant, and you barely saw him move. But he’s there already.
Federer: Yes, and his hands were so quick, that probably added to the magic he showed when he came to the net.
Question: Speaking of net games, the past couple of weeks the guys on tour have been heard saying things like the serve and volley game is officially dead now. Do you feel that way, and if so, are you still willing to try and win Wimbledon serving and volleying like you said you would someday?
Federer: Oh, you heard that, did you?
Question: We heard you say that last year at some point, and then recently you commented on Patrick Rafter’s career –
Federer: Well, the reporter asked me why the true serve and volley guys, like Sampras, Becker, Edberg, had not done well at Roland Garros. I answered, it was tough to serve and volley all the time on both serves, or especially on first serves all the time, it’s not easy. Rafter seemed to run across guys who got very hot and who started returning really well, and they like to play with targets. I think I said that’s why he maybe won so few titles, even though he was a great player I think.
Question: Do you think the game has become just too powerful now to allow for the subtlety of a serve and volley style?
Federer: Maybe so, maybe absolutely pure serve and volley is gone, but we use it still once the game goes further along –
Question: As part of the “all-court” style of game.
Federer: Maybe it’s hard for guys to play the net now, you have to see so many balls go by you.
Question: It must take a peculiar personality to withstand that, getting passed a lot at net. Can’t be good for morale. But guys like Henman and Rafter seemed able to deal with it, they kept doing enough of it. I would like to test a serve and volley player, maybe keep track of him in a game, see how many times he has to watch a ball pass him at the net.
Federer: But you sound a little sad it’s gone.
Question: Yes, we’re feeling positively wistful about it all. Because the game is based on movement, and serving and volleying especially shows that off. So when serve and volley goes, it seems like we don’t get the chance to see players doing what the game can show them doing best, the movement.
Federer: Back to the dance floor again.
Question: You know, I heard Pete Sampras in an interview describe you as “the best mover by far” on a tennis court.
Federer: Well, that is good to hear, he knows something about moving around too.
Question: You and Pete are both Leos, you are four days apart in August, did you know that?
Federer: We may have a few things in common, what does that mean?
Question: Well, Leos are lions at heart, you walk the walk, and you roar the talk. You like having your way, incredibly bossy, and there’s only room for one of you guys on the catwalk.
Federer: Well, I guess it’s good one of us has retired (smiling) in that case. Sort of retired.
Question: I remember his eyes lit up as he described that about you. For a minute there, I wondered if Pete felt he had retired too early. I think he’d like a piece of you, Roger, what do you think?
Federer: Well, he would have been a terrific rival to have. It’s a good thing he wants to play on the Seniors, people will get to see more of him.
Question: You are being rather polite here, Mr. Federer, you know you did not mention how you rang Pete’s bell pretty good back at Wimbledon a few years ago.
Federer: It was a good day for me. But after that it was a while for me.
Question: Was it a case of “too much, too soon?” winning that match?
Federer: Well maybe, I mean, you do what you do when you are ready. Maybe mentally was the problem for me after.
Question: Marat Safin experienced the same problem after he beat Sampras and won the U.S. Open.
Federer: Yes, maybe sometimes you can say winning is bad for the health.
Question: Have you ever talked with Marat about that common experience you both had?
Federer: No actually, we probably could. But we haven’t. He got over his problem, I think I can tell you. Beating me like that at the Australian Open.
Question: Yes, he must have gotten over it. And you were the one who cured him –
Federer: (laughing) Well I hope he appreciates that.
Question: Seriously though, does it bother you that you don’t often face a strong challenger in many tournaments nowadays? Do you think this hurts the game?
Federer: Oh, I don’t know, you know every week there are guys who come after you, they have nothing to lose. Like Rafter, I provide them a target. The guys can all beat each other, you know, like you say about your football teams. Any team can beat any team today. The qualifiers come after you now, you get no rest.
Question: Personally, I am happy your best rival may be Nadal, because your styles are so opposite, it makes for a nice contrast. Like Andre and Pete, a classic match-up of aggressive and defensive styles.
Federer: Well now the styles change so fast, one minute you’re playing defense but you have to be ready to move in, be aggressive. The more complete you can play, the better.
Question: Are you aware mentally of what you’re doing on a court, as you do it? Are you aware you need to think about it a lot? Or does it just flow for you?
Federer: I try not to analyze too much on court, hopefully you do that before the match, and of course after it too, whether you win it or not. You hope you are ready, and the more ready you are, then perhaps it’s easier for you to just be there without having to think about it a lot.
Question: You have this ability to really step it up in your matches, like you’re a racing car driver and you get from zero to ten in no time. Like what you did against Andre in the tiebreaker at the Open last year, you gave up the first point but then you won the next seven. It was a spectacular display of power at just the right moment.
What do you say to yourself to make those moments happen?
Federer: Well I probably say something like, (smiling) you’d better concentrate here or he’s going to be up a set on you, fear is a good motivation I think. You try to stay really focused, and keep it simple. Nowadays, you see players who may not be that close in ranking, but you see the scores, these guys stay with you well right to the end of the first set now. Then it comes down to those few moments, where you really have to focus, or they get away from you. You have to be aware of the match as you go along, but you really have to be aware of those few moments when everything can change.
Question: Does anger help you on the court? Do you work up a head of steam when you’re playing an opponent you may not like?
Federer: Well, I try to like everyone (smiling), really, it’s all about the game, I try to do well rather than feeling I need to tear my opponent apart. And you want him to play well too, it makes it sweet then when you can win because you both gave a lot of yourselves.
Question: How nervous do you get in a match? Is this what the game comes down to? How well people handle the nerves?
Federer: I remember people asked Borg about that, because he always seemed so cool, but apparently inside he felt it, a lot.
Question: But to look at him, you’d never know –
Federer: No you wouldn’t, he was amazing.
Question: He could have been planning his next backhand up the line or wondering what he would have for dinner after the match. The expression was the same. Do you try to hide all the work you have to do? You tend to be somewhat secretive about your training methods.
Federer: I could not hide the work if I wanted to, it’s too much, but I am glad it looks so easy out there (smiling). You should try it sometime.
Question: How has life changed for you since you signed with IMG Management? Has it been good having them “run the show” for you?
Federer: It’s been a good relationship, I have no complaints. And Mirka is quite happy about it (smiling).
Question: It probably lightened her work load a bit. You know, the two of you seem to have quite an excellent relationship. Someone recently complimented you for that on one of the tennis sites on the Internet, saying how often guys who reach the top tend to dump the woman they are with as they move up the ladder.
Federer: Are you doing a survey on this too? You are going to be busy. So do many of these guys you say dump their girlfriends?
Question: It’s been known to happen. Fame does strange things to people sometimes. Especially in this country. But I think part of what makes you able to play so well so consistently is that you have your personal house in order. You have people around who love and respect you and it all seems to work so well.
Federer: It’s really important, like you say, I could not do it without them. They are as important as my shots on the court, in a way, like you learn a forehand or a backhand –
Question: Speaking of shots, I must compliment you on that under spin/side spin backhand drop shot you’ve developed…
Federer: You like that, do you?
Question: Well, it’s always a crowd-pleaser, and you know what’s odd is I am thinking the Swiss invented it –
Federer: Really, well if you want to give us credit for it –
Question: It’s just that lately I saw Patty Schnyder use it really effectively in her match on clay, and Hingis has a great one too. So I’m thinking this must be another one of those “Swiss Conspiracies” where you make everyone else look terribly inept.
Federer: I am feeling I should hang my head.
Question: Well, isn’t it enough you show your precision with cuckoo clocks and other nice watches? We could let you get away with it, just as a drop shot with under spin. But see, you went and added the side spin. That’s too much insult. We think you should knock it off.
Federer: (smiles) If I see the two of them before you do, I’ll tell them that, OK?
Question: Thanks Roger. You know, you really are a peach. But next week you’re going to get some tougher questions.
Federer: (smiling) I hope I’m ready.
TO BE CONTINUED
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