x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Roger Federer targets No 1 ranking

The Swiss says he feels refreshed after a three-week vacation with his family as he bids for a fifth Dubai Duty Free Championship.

Roger Federer feels refreshed after a three-week break with his wife and twin daughters.
Roger Federer feels refreshed after a three-week break with his wife and twin daughters.

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Few men have had such an influence over their chosen profession as Roger Federer. No disrespect to the predecessors, but his reign at the top of men's tennis has taken the game to another level.

Federer may have fallen behind Rafael Nadal in the world rankings, but he held that position for a record 237 consecutive weeks. He may not be a reigning grand slam champion, but he has won 16, more than any man in history.

His era of dominance started in 2003 when he dropped just one set as he cruised to the Wimbledon title. A few months earlier, he had won the first of his four titles in Dubai.

Federer was then a 22-year-old bursting with talent. He won 15 of the next 26 grand slams and was runner-up at six others. Now, at 29, he is the elder statesman of the tour. Married, he is a doting father to twins, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, and is trying to find a balance between the travels on the tour and spending time with his young family.

After his Australian Open loss to Novak Djokovic, the eventual champion, he took three weeks off with his family as tennis took a back seat. There was no time to dwell over the defeat as Federer savoured the time with his children.

"Well, it was the perfect vacation," said the Swiss, who is back in the UAE for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which starts today, after missing the last two years due to injuries. "I have spent a lot of time with my kids and Mirka [his wife], in the sun relaxing.

"Last year after London [the year-ending World Tour Finals, which he won], we could only take a week's rest and that was just not enough. In a perfect world, it's not enough for your body to rest and heal, and mentally get away from it all. But that was all I was really able to get.

"So this time around, we had a longer time off and it did me really well. It was nice."

Federer turned professional in 1998, the year he won the junior Wimbledon title. Success on the senior circuit, however, took some time and his first ATP title came in Milan in 2001, where the Swiss served noticed of his arrival with victories over Goran Ivanisevic and Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

The same year, he ended Pete Sampras's 31-match winning streak at Wimbledon in the fourth round, but lost to Tim Henman. The following yeat, he added three more titles before exploding on to the scene in 2003 by winning the Wimbledon crown and six other trophies.

Overall, he has now won 67 ATP titles and more than US$61.6 million (Dh226m) in prize money. Still, the thought of slowing down never crosses his mind. Reclaiming the No 1 ranking from rival Nadal still remains a priority.

"I said the No 1 is important when I got to Qatar and Australia, and that goal hasn't changed," said Federer, adding that the thought of retirement has never crossed his mind, not even when he spends time with his family.

"No because on vacation I talk about my plans, and my plans are always one-and-a-half years ahead of time," he said. "If that day comes [retirement], I don't know. I think that's more something that comes while you are playing than when you are taking a rest.

"When you are taking a rest, you are just enjoying it, you are happy to be away from it, but then also you get hungry again to come back. And that's the kind of way I felt towards the end of the vacation again."

The questions obviously arise because Federer will be celebrating his 30th birthday on August 8. Bjorn Borg, after 11 grand slam titles, decided to retire at the age of 26.

"I can't believe that it's so much time," Federer said. "I still feel I am playing the juniors not so long ago. Years on tour go by extremely quick because of the travelling, because of the organisation and because you are looking so far ahead.

"It's a fast-paced life really and that's why 30 to me does not feel like 30. I just think that it takes a physical toll but mentally if you enjoy playing then it's not such a problem. Years go by on the tour and that's for sure.

"[Earlier], I used to have incredible muscle pain, especially after tough matches. I used to come out barely able to walk sometimes. Today it's different. I came out of the Novak match at the Australian Open and I had a spring in my step and thinking about vacation.

"It's a different type of fatigue I guess, but I find it easier to handle the stress on the tour and the tough matches as I know I am more fit and I know what to expect.

"As a young guy you don't know your limits so you push that extra hard and get injured probably. But now I manage my energy much better."

arizvi@thenational.ae

Also read:

- Federer to face wild card ... but it is not Omar Awadhy

- Novak Djokovic back with a better mentality

- Caroline Wozniacki secures Dubai Tennis Championships