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The birthday boy’s golden wish

Switzerland's Roger Federer, who has ruled men's tennis for five years, turns 27 today and would like nothing better as a gift than the Olympic medal. A report by Indraneel Das.

india Updated: Aug 08, 2008 00:02 IST
Indraneel Das

Normal people do not have such expectations of them. Maybe that’s why Roger Federer won’t buckle under the twin burdens of trying to rectify a bad year through Olympic redemption and being his country’s flag-bearer, its ambassador almost, in the Orient.

For five years, he has ruled men’s tennis with grace. Bulldozed from his perch by a Spanish matador, Federer would now like to silence criticism and prove that all is not lost. Going into the Games with a string of losses, he knows it won’t be easy. But then, little in life is.

Not since the stars started descending on Beijing has the conference room been this crowded. From the corridors of Room No 4 -- where Rafael Nadal adorned the dais just hours ago -- to this one, even space to stand was at a premium. Enough for Federer to say: “I have attended a lot of pressers through my career but I think the Olympics are bigger. And I really hope to get some good questions from you.”

Memories that linger

His intentions were made clear at the outset. “I want to win the gold. I have enough left in me this season to win it,” declared the 12-time Grand Slam winner on the eve of his 27th birthday here on Thursday.

For Federer, the Olympics has always been special. It was at Sydney that he met girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec when both walked out to represent their countries. “I will always remember the Olympics because it’s here where I met my girlfriend,” said Federer. With a smile, he added, “You can hold the flag only for 10-20 minutes, but here I am holding on to my girlfriend for eight years.”

Philosophical at times, jovial at others, Federer volleyed each of the questions aimed at him with the finesse of a seasoned pro.

On missing out on a podium finish, he said: “Sydney was my first Olympics and Athens was good. But I failed win a medal there. It’s my dream to do well at the Games here. Last time, I was given the honour of carrying the flag of my country, which was the biggest moment of my career. But unfortunately I failed to win a medal there. I would love to win a medal for my country here.”

The French connection

Federer said he would not like to differentiate between a Grand Slam and an Olympic gold. “For me, Olympic gold is as important as winning a Grand Slam.” With a touch of self-deprecating humour, he added: “I would love to win the French Open as much as I would like to win the Olympics. It’s great to be part of the history book.”

Referring to his favourite venue, he said: “Hopefully if not this time, I would like to win a gold at Wimbledon during the London Olympics in 2012.”

He might have been overtaken by Nadal but Federer still seems covered with the aura of invincibility. He would walk out on the newly-laid hardcourts here as the favourite. “I always think in every tournament there are favourites and I am one of them. As you advance, there will be a lot of pressure. I had a week’s training before coming here and hope to do well.”

Federer, however, felt the hot conditions here would be more challenging than on the Tour. “It’s really very hot. I was expecting it to be warm but I never thought it would be this hot. Maybe it’s a lot more humid than I expected. Hopefully, I will come up with good results.”

So far, so bad

Unlike at Athens and Sydney, Federer is not staying at the Village. “When in the Village there is a lot of distraction. I have stayed there before and felt there are a few distractions. This time I thought I should concentrate on my game. Because this year has been really bad.

“I think I started the season really bad. The sickness before the season simply compounded matters. An Olympic win will make it a good year.”

With the Games offering ATP points this has become an opportunity for Federer to gain some important points. “But to reclaim my spot I need to be rock solid. I have lost matches I should have never lost. People expect more from me and so I am focused on the Olympics,” he said.