Saville hits with a legend, and has snaps to savour
LUKE Saville's Facebook page proudly features a photo of the young South Australian and his new practice partner, a Swiss guy with a familiar face and 17 major singles trophies.
''Someone commented, 'Best friends'?'' Saville smiles, a little sheepishly, like the slightly star-struck teenager he still is.
''I said, 'Far from that', but I'll claim it anyway.''
It was been a fortnight to remember for Saville, the former Wimbledon and Australian Open junior champion, who lost in the first round of the singles and mixed doubles on his senior grand slam debut but has shared five hitting sessions with Roger Federer, including a two-hour gig soon after the champion arrived in Melbourne.
Saville had been planning a day off when the invitation was relayed.
''I was straight out of bed and it wasn't a day off any more,'' he says.
''Obviously I took it up straightaway. I hit with him for a couple of hours on Rod Laver Arena and it was amazing.
''Just to see his ball control as well, he can do anything with the ball; he works on all these things in practice and they work for him in a match.
''And ever since Wednesday I've hit with him every day - either warmed him up or hit with him on his day off. It's just been an amazing experience and I've loved every moment of it. It's been a huge thrill.''
The first session was an intense, sweaty affair in Melbourne's heat but during the tournament it is more about the short and sharp, 15 to 20 minutes - and a noticeably different mindset.
''I can definitely tell he's much more focused on his game day; he goes straight to the other side of the net from me and speaks with his coach, just shakes my hand, and we pretty much just go back and start hitting. But on his days off he'll sit with me and make a lot of conversation, be a bit more chilled out.''
The chat is not technical, presumably in case Saville becomes a future rival in more than his dreams.
''He says all the right things, asked where I'm from, met my parents, asked what tournaments I've been playing, asked about my junior career - he knew I'd won a couple of junior slams and been a pretty good junior player and he was talking to me about the transition,'' said Saville.
''He hasn't really spoken to me about my shots and all that sort of stuff because he's a player as well and doesn't want to give too much away. Sometimes I have to pinch myself, say, 'This is Roger Federer'.''
Federer returned the favour by keeping an eye on Saville's two matches and greetings are exchanged now in the hallways and player restaurant.
A few happy snaps have been taken for posterity and video shot by Saville's cousin.
''I've got a few photos on Facebook; it's been a bit of a hit,'' says 18-year-old Saville.
''It's a bit funny but he's been my idol for years and years now and I don't really care. I just love how he plays, love the way he conducts himself and if I could turn out to be half as good as that, win a few slams, I think I'd have a very good career.''
Still, Saville is chuffed to be a hitting partner for now. He warmed Federer up for Saturday night's clash with his own contemporary, Bernard Tomic, then watched one of his two - Lleyton Hewitt is the other - biggest idols.
But wouldn't John Howard call it awfully un-Australian to be assisting the Swiss superstar's campaign against a local lad?
''Yeah, maybe, possibly, if you look at it like that, but I would never turn it down - even if he was playing Lleyton in the final,'' says Saville.
''If Lleyton asked me as well, I'd probably take Lleyton first, I probably would, but if Roger Federer asked me to hit with him any time I'd definitely take it.''
And less dangerous than a practice set with Maria Sharapova, too, as one of Saville's young peers (unnamed, but initials BM and home state New South Wales, possibly), found when he was shaded by the Russian before the tournament.
Saville was not naming names, out of loyalty to his friend, but now has the biggest of all to drop after a grand slam experience to remember - and an endorsement to savour.
''He's a nice guy, I think he plays well.'' Federer said before Monday's fourth-round against Canadian Milos Raonic.
''He was happy to warm me up, hit with me on the off days. When you find a guy you're comfortable with … it's nice to stay with the same guy. I think [Saville's] got some potential, as well.
''I think, like Bernard, the work ethic, the day in, day out grind, wanting to improve badly, that needs to come through big time for these guys now. I hope they'll do that.''