Roger Federer Is the Defending Australian Open Champion, but Not the Favorite
PERTH, Australia — Amélie Mauresmo won her two Grand Slam singles titles in 2006 and retired three years later. She had no idea that Roger Federer, the man who won Grand Slam singles titles on those same weekends as her in 2006, would still be on top of his sport more than a decade later.
“I don’t know how he does it,” Mauresmo said. “What it puts on your body is huge. The training, the matches, the travel, the jet lag, anything.”
Mauresmo and Federer won the Australian Open and Wimbledon singles titles in 2006. Two years older than Federer, Mauresmo, 39, retired from the sport in 2009, at 30, and is at the Australian Open as coach of the French player Lucas Pouille.
Federer is at the Australian Open as the two-time defending champion. His bid for a 21st Grand Slam singles championship begins Monday in Melbourne.
“Winning back-to-back Australian Opens like this, in my mid-30s, it’s one of my favorite things I will look back on in my career,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen, and I had such a great time here in Australia the last couple of years and always enjoyed playing here.”
Federer acknowledges his age readily, quipping at the Hopman Cup recently that his 20-year-old opponent, Stefanos Tsitsipas, “could be my son.” And he marvels at his own ability to run up the score in the record books — 99 titles and counting — at an age when many would count him out.
But after an auspicious start to last season, when he won his first 17 matches, Federer seemed to trail off. After winning the title in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in February and briefly reclaiming the No. 1 ranking, Federer went without another tournament championship until October. After skipping the clay-court season for the second year in a row, he lost in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon after holding a match point against Kevin Anderson, and in the fourth round of the United States Open to John Millman.
Federer played down the doomsday talk that accompanied his stagnation in the second half of the year.
“I wasn’t too disappointed,” he said. “I was more surprised to hear that there was sort of concern, or people were saying, ‘What a bad second half to the year.’ ”
Federer conceded disappointing finishes at the Grand Slam events but thought he otherwise played well, including a loss in a third-set tiebreaker to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Paris Masters in November.
He said what he needed to do better this year “is really play well when it really comes down to the crunch.”
Federer said he trusted his own evaluations of his play as well as input from his coaches, Ivan Ljubicic and Severin Lüthi.
“I can analyze — with my age, very well — my own matches and my own feelings,” he said. “I have two great coaches, two of the best in the game, who give me their fair assessment, and I have a fitness coach who tells me if I’m moving good or not. They’re all open and honest towards me. I don’t want any sugarcoating; I want it real, and straight. That’s it. I know, always, where I’m at.
“It’s very clear in my team where I stand. And from that standpoint, I’m happy where I am right now. I’m in a great position.”
Mauresmo longs to learn more about what Federer does in his off-seasons.
“I hope one day he will explain to everyone everything,” she said. “The little details, everything that he’s put together to be able to play this well at his age, to move this well.”
Federer is not exactly clandestine about his routines. He prefers, for example, to do his off-season movement drills on a tennis court, rather than indoors as many players do, to better simulate the footing and friction of match conditions.
“I do a bit of weights, too,” he said, grinning and gesturing toward his lithe frame. “I know we don’t see it, but I do.”
Federer started his season auspiciously, winning all eight sets he played at the Hopman Cup last week, never dropping serve in any of the matches.
But he considers the top-ranked Djokovic the clear favorite at the Australian Open. Djokovic, a six-time champion in Melbourne, has won the last two Grand Slam tournaments.
“We know who the usual are,” said Federer, who is seeded third, “and I’m part of that bunch.”
The longevity of that oligarchy, which also includes Rafael Nadal, has blocked several younger players from breaking through on tennis’s biggest stages. No player currently younger than 30 has won even a set in a Grand Slam final.
“We’re all tired of you guys already, but what can we do?” fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev, 21, said during the trophy ceremony of the Hopman Cup on Saturday, when he lost to Federer in singles and mixed doubles.
“Especially you,” he added, turning around and looking at Federer, who laughed. “I mean, you’re 30-whatever! Why? Just, why? Let us have one.”
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