Suggesting to Roger Federer that his best days are behind him at the end of a year which brought a comparatively meagre haul of four titles is like poking a tiger with a stick. Still only 27, the Swiss is convinced that he has the desire and the ability to add many more top honours to his 13 grand slams and 57 titles, starting with the Australian Open in January which he has won three times previously.
He rebuffs firmly the assertion this year was a disappointing year, citing a debilitating bout of glandular fever at the start of the campaign as the main reason why he was overtaken at the top of the world rankings by the Spaniard Rafael Nadal. "I found myself playing catch-up for the rest of the year," reflected Federer, who is resting before reappearing in the Capitala Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi from Jan 1-3.
"Considering the difficulties I have had, I really feel it has been a good season. I played well on clay and grass and came close to winning grand slams on both. I then got a grand slam title at the US Open and I have been in other big finals. "When you take into account that I also won the Olympic gold medal [in doubles] which is very important to my career record, then I can say it was a pretty good year for me."
He is confident next year will be even better. "I am about to take at least two weeks off, on the beach not doing anything, have some quality time with Mirka [his longtime girlfriend Miroslava Vavrinek]. By the end of December, providing I remain healthy, I believe I will be in great shape to win the Australian Open again. "I know what it takes to win slams. I have been in 18 straight semi-finals in slams so I have come to expect being in the last four at least. I always aim very high. There are a lot of good up-and-coming players coming along but I feel if I am on top of my game I can still control them."
"I really feel there are many grand slams left in me and I hope I can start off by winning the next one in Australia." If Federer triumphs in Melbourne it will take him level with Pete Sampras at the top of the list of all-time grand slam winners with 14 and would also kick-start his campaign to regain the No 1 ranking from Nadal. "After being No 1 for so long, you want to get it back at some stage," Federer admitted. "But I don't have it planned that I have to be No 1 again by a certain date in the near future. I think the end of the year is a realistic target. That would show that I was the best player in 2009. But that is a long time away.
"I think things are going to get easier in terms of the schedule for 2009. If they do, I will be better prepared and that means I will play better. It all goes hand in hand." firstname.lastname@example.org