Federer is content to lie low
Federer is content to lie low
Christopher Clarey International Herald Tribune
Published: September 6, 2006
It has been a hit-or-miss year for ticket holders and tennis players at this rain-soaked, tear-soaked Andre Agassi jubilee disguised as a United States Open.
But for Roger Federer, the first nine days of this Grand Slam tournament were a smoother, more emotionally balanced ride, as he picked his spots and shots cleverly between the showers.
Federer likes to control his schedule as much as possible in major tournaments, and though he was offered the chance by Open organizers to play his opening match on Wednesday night in Ashe Stadium, he preferred to play at the less electrically charged time slot of 11 a.m. in the hope of avoiding the rain. It worked, and on Sunday night he chose a sure start at 7:30 on Louis Armstrong over playing the third match, with an indefinite start time, on Ashe.
To sum up, the world's No. 1 player and two-time defending U.S. Open champion has had no quibble thus far with lying low: ceding the spotlight to Agassi's farewell during the first week. Through three rounds, did not drop a set.
The bigger challenges for Federer surely lie ahead, and one of those challenges is finding a way to maintain a healthy appetite for great success when you have already had plenty. He is not the only 21st-century sportsman in that position, and in an interview before the Open, Federer said that one of those from whom he draws inspiration is Tiger Woods.
"Absolutely," he said. "I do, and for me, it's similar to what Tiger is saying. I'm not 100 percent sure of the quote, but the idea is that you want to prove to yourself that you can do it and not to other people.
"That's why for me, this rivalry with Rafael Nadal, okay it's interesting maybe, but in the end, I care about winning the tournaments. That for me is the bottom line, and if Rafael Nadal happens to be on the other side, even better. Because then I can beat the main rival or make a great story on top of that.
"But I think that what people like Tiger and I are more interested in is not who we're playing or racing against. It's wanting to get the best out of yourself."
Woods and Federer have yet to meet, although they are both represented by the same management agency, IMG. But each regularly watches and admires the other's work on television, and at this year's British Open, Woods said that he was now "a huge Federer fan" after being "a huge Pete Sampras fan" before that.
Clearly, dominance appeals to the dominant. Though Nadal has given Federer more trouble of late than Woods's rivals have given him and though golf and tennis do not compare as well as they contrast - a golfer can win well into his forties; Sampras played until age 31 - Federer and Woods are both in their prime. Each won two major titles this year, with Federer still in contention for a third. And each is now six Grand Slam titles away from hitting a brutally tough historical target. Federer has eight Grand Slam singles titles to Sampras's record 14. Woods has 12 majors to Jack Nicklaus's record 18.
"I've met both Tiger and Roger, and they're both very impressive," said Ivan Lendl, the Hall of Fame member who is well placed to compare because he played in professional golf tournaments after retiring from tennis. "I would say it's almost a below-the-belt question to ask which is more impressive. I think what you find in both of them is that they are both trying to keep focused and keep getting better.
"Top players in any sport who have any kind of staying power are guys who draw energy from success and use it to improve. I believe that's the difference between a champion and a No. 1 who comes and goes."
Federer looks not only at Woods, who is back on one of the biggest rolls of his career at age 30 after winning five tournaments in a row; as a European, Federer also looks at others who have dominated over an extended period, in particular the Formula One driver Michael Schumacher and the motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi.
"I love seeing those athletes; you always wonder, how do they keep it up?" Federer said. "And now I'm in the same position, and I'm thinking, 'Why are you asking me this question about why do I want to keep it up?' This is what we all love doing, and you want to prove to yourself you can do it over and over again. You can just never get enough of it until you hit the wall and know you're done.
"I love this sport, and I do have some regrets. In my junior years, I thought I didn't practice well enough. I could have done so many things better, and even though I learned very quickly, I was a bit lazy. And I look back and I've always had the feeling I could maybe have had success earlier than winning Wimbledon for the first time.
"Now, when finally everything is working out, and I'm happy with my private life and am playing well on the court, I want to make sure I do things right, so I can look back and say that at least from the time I came on tour, I really kind of made everything right. That's the feeling I want to have when I leave."