x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Federer is in his prime to wow the Dubai crowds

Stakhovsky plays his part but Swiss star takes centre stage for the evening with another superlative performance.

Roger Federer returns the ball to Sergiy Stakhovsky during their Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships yesterday.
Roger Federer returns the ball to Sergiy Stakhovsky during their Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships yesterday.

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DUBAI // Roger Federer simply loves playing his matches at prime time, in front of packed galleries with excited supporters cheering his name and turning the occasion into a carnival.

The Swiss, as per his wish, was on centre court again for the feature 7pm game in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last night, and he delighted the capacity crowd with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Sergiy Stakhovsky, the Ukrainian who also played his part in the entertainment.

"I always used to like playing at night," said the top seed, who is now through to the last four.

"But then again, day is just as friendly, too. I like playing day. I guess at night you get a bit more electrifying crowds. And especially here in this part of the world, daytime is not really show time. It's usually at night.

"That's why I'm happy to play whenever is prime time in whatever country it is … whatever is the prime time I guess is the best time."

This ATP World Tour 500 tournament is Federer's first competition since his loss to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

The world No 2 has an apartment in Dubai, so this tournament is a "home" event in many ways.

Federer, however, insists there is only one home for him and that is Switzerland.

"Switzerland is my home and it will always be, and that is where I'm going to grow old," said the 16-time grand slam winner. "So Switzerland for me is obviously the place.

"Honestly, I really enjoy being here [in Dubai]."

He said that the location works really well during the hard court season and summer tournaments in America.

"Then we go on clay and grass and stuff and I'm in Europe more often," Federer said.

"I'm happy I chose Dubai as a base, a practice base or as a going through place for me to the rest of world. It's a good location. I don't regret it, of course."

Dubai's geographic position and respect for individual privacy were the biggest reason for Federer's decision to move his base to the UAE. A couple of holidays here were enough to convince the Swiss.

"I came on vacation I think back in 2004," he said.

"And then when I came on the way back from Bangkok when I beat Roddick, I think, in the finals there, I came through Dubai. I met up with Tony Roche for a practice session, a sort of an undercover operation."

He said there was a direct flight from Australia for Roche so they were able to meet and have a few days practice together.

"I remember it was brutally hot, I think like 39°C every day, but I had a good time. You know, it was peace and quiet and I kind of enjoyed it here.

"I think I came back one more time for vacation and more practice. I was like, 'you know, I think this works well for practice and leisure'.

"The next thing I knew, I had an apartment. It all happened quite quickly, to be honest. You know, it was funny how it all worked out."

Federer, of course, enjoys playing in the Dubai tournament as well. This is his eighth appearance in the competition.

"Over the years, it's become one the most prestigious tournaments to win," he said.

"I'm happy to see it grow like that. It's a wonderful tournament. I hope obviously I can play many more times."

Federer missed the last two tournaments at the Aviation Club due to illness and injury, and Novak Djokovic took home the trophy on both occasions. The Swiss is happy to be back and is hoping to go all the way.

"I do obviously feel very welcome here," he said. "I do spend some time here in Dubai to practice and so forth.

"I think it has a nice feeling as well of it being a tennis club. I'm a member here. They gave me an honorary membership when I beat [Jimmy] Connors' record here, I remember.

"I think over the years the fans that flock to the stadium are quite excited that tennis is here.

"I think that's another nice thing that speaks well for Dubai. Then they usually always have a good field. They make a lot of players come here."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae