Tennis: Federer admits he takes defeat better with age

(From left) Marin Cilic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych cheering on Team Europe against Team World in Prague. The Europeans swept the singles to lead 3-0 before Nadal and Berdych lost the doubles.
(From left) Marin Cilic, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych cheering on Team Europe against Team World in Prague. The Europeans swept the singles to lead 3-0 before Nadal and Berdych lost the doubles.PHOTO: REUTERS

PRAGUE • The sense from watching Roger Federer on and off the tennis court during a season in which he returned after a six-month layoff to win the Australian Open, a record eighth Wimbledon title and the prestigious "sunshine double" of back-to-back Masters titles in Indian Wells and Miami, is that he has mellowed.

Not just from the racket-throwing teenager, but also, in the past few years, from an occasional sore loser who was not the most gracious in defeat.

"I have more perspective," the 36-year-old Swiss legend admitted on Friday during the Laver Cup at Prague's O2 Arena. "You absorb losses faster and easier, even though it hurts.

"You move on with it, you know you were well prepared, you know you tried your best. Rather than wasting negative energy on something you can't change anyway, you take it on the chin, you learn from it and move on."

Incredibly, Federer and Rafael Nadal, both recovering from injury problems, went on to complete a sweep of the four Grand Slam events this year between them.

Now it is the other two members of the "big four", Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who are on the sidelines till the new year.

Such has been the recent success of Federer and Nadal, though, that there are expectations of Murray and Djokovic hitting the ground running after a long break.

Federer warns that it is not a given, citing the doubts he had around this time last year of how he would perform upon his return.

"But, as long as you are happy with how you are feeling, that is the perfect comeback for you personally, he said. "If I had lost in the first round of the Australian Open but had been feeling fine physically, that would have been a win for me."

A significant factor in Federer's renaissance is his fast and aggressive game, ensuring quicker points that are not as taxing on the ageing body as long exchanges from the baseline.

It is not only Murray and Djokovic who are sidelined at present. Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic are also out, prompting some to wonder if there is a particular reason behind the injury toll on the men's tour.

"I think that all of the guys had to take a break because either they are carrying an injury for a while or they are really not doing well, some have had surgery," Federer offered.

"I think this is just a freak moment in time that it hit a lot of the guys at the same time.

"The US Open wasn't quite the same. It was still a successful event - Rafa played phenomenal and four of the women in the semis were American, so the tournament was a success. But you did miss those guys, it's normal."

It is curious to hear Federer's admission that he missed his rivals in New York. Murray and Djokovic, about a decade ago, were two players who appeared to ruffle his feathers in their early encounters.

Now, that extra frosty edge does not come to fruition so often during his matches, particularly against the younger players.

"I think there is still an edge to it but the younger players still need more time to break through, and we still haven't played the amount of times I was playing against Andy and Novak in 2007 and 2008," he countered.

"I do think we still need more time to play more often for some rivalry to build."

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'Federer admits he takes defeat better with age'. Print Edition | Subscribe