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Return of the genius - What makes Roger Federer tick even at 35

Roger Federer has left the legion of his fans in awe with a strong showing so far in the Australian Open, his first major tournament since ending a lengthy lay-off to rest his operated left knee

tennis Updated: Jan 20, 2017 20:11 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
New Delhi
Roger Federer,Roger Federer Tennis,Roger Federer Return
Roger Federer celebrates after defeating Tomas Berdych in men’s singles third round match at Australian Open .(AP)

Few had expected Roger Federer, playing only his third tournament since returning after a long break, to beat Czech Tomas Berdych in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday. But the Swiss ace crushed his opponent.

A look at how Federer’s comeback was planned and how his trainer, Pierre Paganini explains the attributes of the tennis phenomenon. (HIGHLIGHTS)

Swiss master Roger Federer left the world wondering whether the 17-times Grand Slam champion and the modern player with the most pleasing game still had anything left in the tank when he took a long break after last year’s Wimbledon semifinal loss to Canada’s Milos Raonic.

Break for the best

Having undergone a left-knee surgery in February Federer’s comeback plans took a tumble on the Wimbledon grass during that five-set defeat, putting back his recovery. It convinced Federer that he needed a long break to help his knee heal fully and his body to recover.

So, how did Federer get back on the road to playing world class tennis again while the rest of the world had almost given up, especially after he missed the Rio Olympics and the US Open and announced he would no longer play in 2016?

Federer owed a lot of his grand comeback to his long-term trainer, Pierre Paganini. He used Federer’s longest break since turning professional in 1998 to plot his revival.

The pair got together on August 27 for his first workout since the break. Initially, Federer avoided training on consecutive days then started playing points in early October. He didn’t start full on-court training until late November.

‘Feeling like 25 again’

Paganini acknowledges that the key to Federer’s revival was his passion for tennis and the sincerity with which the player craved longevity at the top. “He doesn´t have to show anything to anybody but works every day as if he owes something to someone. He is simply unique. I can guarantee you one thing: his passion for practice and tennis is big. How can´t a person who smiles every day before practising have passion?

Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrates winning his Men's singles third round match against Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych. ( REUTERS )

“If he wasn´t willing, he wouldn´t play. And instead he feels like when he was 25,” Paganini told Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger last November, as Federer was targeting his comeback at the Hopman Cup in Perth. “Now we are going through an interesting process characterised by an intense work. We are satisfied but careful too. We don´t need to forget he has been playing for many years, and there are signs of tiredness.”

Federer moved to his usual off-season training base in Dubai in December. Paganini compared the gradual stepping up of his training intensity to “playing for 70 minutes, but the match is not finished yet. And sometimes the last minutes are very important. Last five weeks of the year are the most important ones of this journey and it started on 27 August, four weeks after the decision of shutting down the season,” Paganini was further quoted as saying.

Special player

But Federer is unique, as these comments by Paganini in an interview to New York Times in 2012 reveals. Asked what made the Swiss great stand out, this is what his trainer had said: “Roger has an incredible capacity to still progress. That’s why he’s still on top: mentally he’s very strong and can adapt to the physical side, too.

“For Roger, you have to be good to find exercises that give him trouble. He’s so coordinated. In 2000, when we started working full-time again, I proposed a complex thing and sensed while he was doing that, it was more and more perfect. He then explained why I had asked him to do it. It was fascinating. He had understood as an athlete not just how to do it but also understood why. He had the internal and external aspects covered. He’s not someone who consumes. He’s someone who creates.”

First Published: Jan 20, 2017 19:30 IST