Roger Federer will approach the 1,000th match of his glittering career – against Juan Martin del Potro on Tuesday in his 31st consecutive quarterfinal of a Grand Slam – with considerably more calm and self-awareness than he brought to many matches in his storm-filled youth.
Reflecting on the journey from Gstaad in 1998 to Melbourne in 2012, Federer acknowledged there has been angst and pain as well as joy.
It is easy to forget as he makes a charge at his fifth title here and 17th major that the elegant Swiss was not always the island of tranquillity he appears today.
At 30 and the wealthiest, most decorated player in the history of his sport, Federer said he once had to struggle against the beast within. He threw racquets and tantrums with the best of them.
"I never thought as a kid I would ever cry after I won matches," he said, "because I always used to cry after I lost – every single match from eight to 15. It was emotional because I always tried my best. Whenever I lost it was tragic."
Then he began to cry when he won. Federer, for all his iciness on court, has never shed his underlying passion for tennis. The game devours him, which is why he will find it tough to let go. And here we are 14 years later, and the royal progress has stalled, yet the hauteur remains. Federer insisted that Del Potro will pose a more physical challenge. "It's going to be different. He's got some incredible shot-making."
At the halfway stage of this fascinating Australian Open, he continues to glide above the court and the game with the composure of a Zen master while bearing a racquet as lethal as a machine gun.