x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Roger Federer feeling right at home for Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

Swiss to make the short journey across town from his Dubai Marina appartment to the Aviation Club , writes Gary Meenaghan.

Roger Federer at the 18th-floor Assawan Amphitheatre at Burj Al Arab, Dubai, ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, starting  Monday, February 24, 2014. Courtesy Jorge Ferrari
Roger Federer at the 18th-floor Assawan Amphitheatre at Burj Al Arab, Dubai, ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, starting Monday, February 24, 2014. Courtesy Jorge Ferrari

Of the 32 men competing in this week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships main draw, only two are not staying at the host venue’s adjacent hotel.

Novak Djokovic, the world No 2, is resting his head at the plush Burj Al Arab, while Roger Federer, arguably the greatest player to ever swing a racket, is staying at his apartment in Dubai Marina.

Federer has owned his high-rise residence since before the recession and tends to spend his off-season training in the desert sunshine.

He shops in Spinneys, trains at the Aviation Club and will be able to drive himself to work. In previous years, he has elected to stay at the on-site Jumeirah Creekside Hotel to ensure the week feels like a regular tournament.

This week, however, he has opted to stay at home with his four year-old twin daughters, Charlene and Myla, and his pregnant wife, Mirka.

Playing on the ATP Tour and simultaneously raising a young family is a tough balancing act.

“It’s like a circus. We put up our tents and afterwards, pack them back up again and leave on a train,” the 32-year-old Swiss said.

Last year, between January and November, he played in 17 tournaments across 12 different countries.

“In the beginning, it was very different; you are not as flexible, you can’t just change flight tickets like you used to, or just leave after you lost.

“Clearly, it took us some getting used to. We learnt that it’s sometimes almost better and easier to stay on the road.

“I’m really looking forward now to seeing how it’s going to be with the next kid.

“I think it’s just going to flow in and be easy, because having twins right off the bat was tough, but we made it work.”

After failing in 2013 to reach a grand slam final for the first time in 10 years, many critics said that Federer’s reign as a title challenger was over.

Indeed, his ranking dropped to No 8 and he arrives in Dubai this week as the fourth-seeded player, his lowest since his tournament debut, in 2002.

Yet having spent the best part of two months training in Dubai during the off-season, Federer has started the year strongly and his semi-final appearance in last month’s Australian Open could mark the first step in his resurgence.

“It’s a matter of staying healthy, getting to semis and finals consistently and giving myself opportunities,” he said.

“I feel in as good a shape as I’ve been in a year, at least. I feel my best tennis is around the corner.

“I’ve said that quite a few times, but I feel this time it’s really the case. I wake up with zero pain and I’m excited playing tournaments.

“What was most encouraging was my off-season. That was key: for me to know my body was able to handle that stress level, and for that reason, I’m confident for the year ahead.”

Federer, a five-time winner at the Aviation Club, starts his Dubai campaign today against Benjamin Becker, the German ranked No 93 in the world.

In Melbourne, he beat Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, but if he is to reach the final this week, he will likely face Djokovic in the semi-finals. They are on the same side of the draw.

“I feel like there’s no adjustment needed when I come back to this place,” Federer said. “I haven’t played in a few weeks, too, so that also creates extra motivation.

“I’ve been preparing for a really big tournament and I’ve been here since Friday with not much to do other than practise.

“It’s been a really good week and I hope it’s going to pay off.”

Federer may have an added incentive, should his family come to watch. Both daughters are beginning to appreciate their father’s profession and prominence, although dad is reluctant to talk too much about the sport with them, preferring to instead spend time educating them and ensuring they enjoy childhood.

“They understand the difference between training and matches, they understand that I am a tennis player and they see me on TV,” he said.

“It’s fun for them to come to the site sometimes. They play a little bit of tennis themselves now and can relate a little with what I’m doing. I like it when they come to the courts and I am warming up and they are running around, too.

“I come back from the matches and they help me take my tape off. It’s just really cute.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae