"Roger needs time“
Fitness coach Pierre Paganini about Federer's season so far and consequences of mono
By Rene Stauffer
Mr. Paganini, as a long-term coach and consultant of Roger Federer: what's your opinion concerning his fitness before the US Open?
Regarding the athleticism, he´s at 99 or 100 % of his potential. Maybe he lacks a little bit stamina in some situations, e.g. when a rally takes too long, so that he misses some explosiveness. But a tennis player is like a puzzle. A lot of factors are involved, such as athleticism, the tennis itself and last but not least the self-confidence. His self-confidence isn't the same like it´s been in the previous years. That becomes evident when you look at his match statistics.
How does that affect his game?
It´s a mixture of hesitating – often just a hundred of a second – and a little less harmony in the movement. You play like you move, and you move and play like you feel. It´s a triangle-relation. If you lack only a half percent in athleticism, mentally, and in your game, it´s in the addition 1,5 %. And that´s the explanation for being a little uncertain sometimes. In former times roger fought to convert his tennis, now he fights to express it. That´s a different fight, that´s why it looks a little different.
Does that mean he doesn’t suffer from the glandular fever any more, which has often been speculated? He himself said that he misses about 20 days of training.
To answer that question I have to draw back somewhat. In 2007 we said: For the 2008 season we will do two important training blocks, the first in December 2007, the second one in February 08. We would have liked to do a third one in July, but that wasn’t possible because of the Olympic Games. The Main Block was the one in February. That one should have helped him to be in good shape till after the Olympics. At first everything went as planned: Roger was fit as ever, in every way his state of fitness was impressive. No doubt about that.
But then the problems began.
At first he had this stomach-virus in Australia, that made him sick for about 10, 11 days. He was 24 hours in hospital, had fever, took antibiotics, lost three Kilos of weight. If you are ill or injured, it takes three times as long to reach the status quo (of fitness). That means, the first fitness block from December was more or less worthless.
Despite this fact, he reached the Semis of the AO.
Right. And when we came back home, we discovered in February, that he suffered since December of glandular fever. From the medical point of view it was finished on 23rd of February – just one week before Dubai (where roger lost to Andy Murray). That means, we could'nt even start the second main block in February. So roger was out of form and had lost a lot of stamina. Therefore we had 2 possibilities: Taking a break for 3 month without playing any tournament and giving everything out of the hand without a fight, or to make new 3-day training blocks between the tournaments to regain at least a bit of the stamina.
You chose the 2nd possibility.
I´ve never seen roger so courageous like this year. He had to deal with a complete different rhythm of tournaments, hard work and recovery. He was tired when he wasn’t in the past, and you had to be careful not to train too much. It was really tough, and it impressed me a lot how he handled everything. In the past everyone said: Federer runs automatically, he always wins, he is a nice guy without a lot of internal power. But now you see what it takes to achieve things like he did. This year we saw the real roger, 2008 he was more the human than the machine. He had to deal with emotions, losses and disappointments.
The results remained below the expectations.
A lot of people are talking of a down – but i´d like to have such a down in my life! Of course he remained below the expectations and the standards that he set himself the last couple of years. But he still had great results. He was runner up in 2 GS finals and is nr. 3 in the champions race. Of course you can say I´m not objective because I work with him. But what I just told you are facts that no one can deny. Apart from that it´s not about defending roger. It´s about seeing the situation just like it is and how roger has experienced it.
Federer said it might have been a mistake to play Toronto and Cinncy before the Olympics. What´s your opinion on that?
Afterwards you always know more. That´s the exciting thing, that a player has to decide before the tournaments if he plays. But there where not enough reasons to withdraw. He won Halle and showed some super-tennis in Wimbledon. From the medical side everything was fine, what a blood-test proved after Wimby. If he had won the last 9:7 in the final, people would talk differently.
Do you think he can regain his old form that made him a 12-times GS-Champion?
I am convinced of that, for 100 %. You don’t lose your potential from one day to another. If someone is able to speak 7 languages and has a headache, he doesn't forget how to speak the languages. There were a lot of situations where he showed his enormous potential, even this year. He just couldn’t do it on a consistent basis like in the past years. And already some say: He´s done. That’s real madness and shows, how high he has set the standards. He cant fail without being buried.
In your opinion, how does he deal with the criticism nowadays? It seems like he tries not to make too much drama out of it.
You never know how it looks inside a person. It´s Roger's job to protect his inner feelings, because it´s private business. At the same time he is a Ambassador of Tennis and takes a lot of time for his duties. I think he´s one of the mentally strongest players on tour, otherwise he couldn’t have achieved these incredible results that he did.
Could the gold-medal from the Olympics help him to regain his old strength?
I don´t know. I just think Roger needs time. Maybe more time than you might think at the moment. Roger is a virtuoso, who is ready to fight. But he is no one who can win just with pure fight, without virtuosity. He has to feel comfortable out on the court again, then he can also fight unbelievably, like he has already proven several times in the past. He needs to work on basic things, in tennis as well as in stamina. And even more, he needs success experiences. Others need 2 wins, and they gain confidence. With roger its different. He´s used to win big tournaments and thus needs more success experiences.
There were speculations in Beijing, he could finish the season earlier then expected.
At the moment the focus is on the US Open. After this tournament we will discuss how we move on. For roger a new chapter begins. You have to define your philosophy new, what´s important for you and what you want to change. That will lead to nice discussions, that we will have with our team.