Peter Bodo`s latest article on Federer is a beauty [www.tennis.com].
Before I came to Melbourne,, a number of you expressed an interest in coverage of the press itself. While I don't want to go overboard on that, I don't find myself having a whole lot to say about Maria Sharapova's fantrashstic win over Anna Chakvetadze in the first quarterfinal of the day. Getting the serve to bounce on the right side of the net should not qualify as a Warrior Moment.The main press interview room here is oddly like a small lecture hall at a university. It's an amphitheater, where the player sits at a desk at the center of the open end of a horseshoe. The reporters sit in movie-theater-like seats on the steep side of the semi-circle. It isn't a bad set-up, but it's a little too formal for my taste. It does beat having the player sit behind a table on a raised dais, which I think invests too much authority in the player's chair.
I was sitting with Miguel I play just like Federer, but I also have a forehand drop shot Seabra shortly before the interview, and he told me that he was going to ask The Mighty Fed, who does, oh, two or three hundred pressers a year, what question he hasn't been asked. But Mikey, if TMF hasn't been asked, how would he know? I didn't say anything, though; it's amazing how often a mildly off-the-wall question will produce a spontaneous, telling response - if you have the Wilanders to ask it.
Anyway, we all assembled in the amphitheater when they announced Roger's presser. I'm going to go through his interview transcript, cherry-picking certain questions that have a bearing on our preoccupations here (dang! I need to ask TMF about the Warrior Moments issue tomorrow).
BTW, there are very few ground rules governing these post-match pressers. Technically speaking, they ought to revolve around the just-completed match. But reporters working on all different kinds of stories will use the PM presser to get quotes. For many of them, the PM presser is the only access they have to top players. These pressers are, theoretically, self-policing and un-orchestrated. Sometimes, the groupie quotient is a little too high at these gatherings (Kim, you're known as one of the nicest girls on the tour. How hard is it to be really, really nice when some of the other girls, like Maria, are so cold and itchy?). Yesterday, during Serena's presser, I watched one captivated
local reporter as she hung on every word, nodding her head in approval as Serena spoke. She stopped short of shouting out, Teach!, but it was touch-and-go for a while there.
Anyway, TMF really does have a senatorial presence in these pressers. He's a master of reasonable discourse, to the point where sometimes you almost wish he would come out with something to which your reaction is: Did he just say what I think he said? This, though, is just my inner anarchist speaking. Roger is always measured, relaxed and calm, but you never sense that he's just blowing smoke or, like some players, either reciting the conventional talking points or overly concerned with saying nothing that would ruffle feathers. In other words, Roger is true to his elegant, balanced, thoughtful but prudent self.
The presser began with the usual opening gambit, with a reporter asking Roger to assess the match he had just played, and then somebody asked him about the wind. Tom Perrotta of the New York Sun was the first reporter to go off topic, for a piece he's doing on Tony Roche and Roger: You've been with Tony Roche for a couple years. Talk a little bit about what he brings to the table for you, and how long you expect that relationship to continue:
Answer: Yeah, I mean, it's been a few years now. I was very happy when he said yes, you know, to work with me. It's been very interesting, you know. Especially the first few months where we had to put everything on the table, you know, where he said what he thinks about my game, where he would like to go, that we kind of have the same mindset for the future. That was quickly found, you know. We've been working very hard in practice.
I was fortunate enough that he always came over to Europe in the summer and I've had now the last three years with Tony in December, which is crucial. We work very well together. I don't see an end to it any time soon. But you know, look, he can decide whatever he wants to do really because he doesn't quite need it, you know, any more after all these years with tennis. But I'm happy if he does, so...
Sometimes, it's hard to tell whether or not a player is finished, and cutting him off in mid-thought is a faux pas destined to get some angry looks shot your way. At the same time, because the pressers are self-regulating (despite the presence next to the player of a tournament official, who's there in case a moderator is needed), you sometimes get these awkward moments when two or three people start asking a question at the same time, which usually causes embarrassment and confusion and occasionally gets really sloppy. But I had a lightbulb-over-head moment, and followed up with a spontaneous question: What is your relation like with him in general? Is it really more like a friendship? Is there a father figure involved? Is it all business?
Roger replied: No, no, it's not all business. But, I mean, we just have a good relationship. It's really relaxed, you know. I think usually tennis players are pretty laid back. Their coach is usually, too.I think it's important, you know, to have a lot of respect for your coach because that sometimes can go away. Especially when you make the breakthrough with somebody, you kind of know him before. You're looking up to the coach before, and all of a sudden the coach is looking up to you. Kind of changes a lot throughout the career.
You know, when we got together, I was No. 1 in the world. I think there's always been a lot of respect for one and the other. Yeah, it's been a good really relationship we've been in. Don't see him all the time, you know, but we have decent contact, which was important.I would have liked to follow up, to ask if, for instance, they had shared dinner together this week.
But somebody with more immediate concerns on his mind jumped in: Do you think your volley will be an important part of your game against Roddick?
Roger weighed this for a moment: It depends how I play. In Kooyong I came in a lot. I doubt it will be that much. It's important to knock off important volleys and be able to have that option. I don't think it's going to come down to volleys, but we'll see what happens.
A reporter unfamiliar to me chimed in: When you played Andy at Kooyong, did he look like a different player to you than he's been since his improvements began?
Roger: Look, I don't know what his problem really was in terms his success because I always thought he was playing okay. He just had a couple of shock losses for him really: first round at the USOpen and then the year before, he won a couple of rounds. That was just very disappointing for him, you know. That year when he lost to Johansson at the US Open, I thought he was almost like a favorite to win the tournament. He was playing so well. All of a sudden he lost in five sets.
Yeah, I mean, I think he's really found his serve again. His serve kind of got lost all of a sudden. He didn't get the same free points any more. He couldn't really, yeah, put the pressure on the opponent because it was too easy to return his serve. I don't know if it's due to change of tactics or change of conditions. All of a sudden, got really slower. He's definitely picked that up again.
Ever since, he's been a great player again.
Now there was some red meat to chew on. Roger alluded to a topic that we went around on a few times in the past week, the issue of court speed. But someone else quickly jumped in, perhaps just to hear the sound of his own voice, perhaps to enjoy a personal interaction with the man himself: Do you have a cold here?
Roger replied: It's going away. Today was running more. Look, I mean, 'm much,much better than, what, five or six days ago. That's basically over.
I saw the opening and I took it: Given how good you are on grass, do you think the courts are ideal for you generally across the board or would you prefer more faster-court tournaments?
Roger looked at me (tip: a player who isn't just mailing in his answers always engages the questioner on a personal level, with eye contact): Like here?
Me: Than there are (in general). Note: I was thinking of Dunlop.
Roger put some thought into this and his tone throughout the answer was ambivalent: Well, I mean, the tour is kind of mainstream, that everybody's got a chance on any surface. Before grass was really quick, you know, indoors was lightning, outdoors was medium sort of, clay was slow. It's not that way any more, you know. We have much more medium-paced outdoor. Indoors has also been slowed down. Grass has been really slowed down. Everybody's got a chance now in a way. So in a way it makes it more easy but more difficult at the same time.
Hard to say. I mean, I kind of like, you know, medium pace because it gives you the option to do a bit of everything. But I don't know if it's entirely fair to all the players. Look, that's just how it is.
Matt Cronin asked: Is Roddick at much more of a disadvantage in a three-out-of-five-set match because eventually you figure him out towards the end?
Roger: If it's an advantage for me or him?
Matt: For you.Versus two out of three at Shanghai. (Hmmm. . . I think we detect a theme here).
Roger replied: Best of three is always a danger. You can be a set and a break down in no time. Against Andy especially that could be it. But, look, that could be against other players, as well.That's the interesting part, especially in Grand Slams, you play more with the mind and the legs, you know, throughout the Slam. Especially over a best-of-five set match, if that's an advantage for me, I hope it is, but I doubt it really.
Suzi Pedkovski, an Australian journo and friend, was clearly working on a feature on Roger's evolution as a player, for she asked: In early '03 people were questioning when or if you would win a Slam. After 2003 Wimbledon, the rest is tennis history. What was the critical difference between you in '02 and '03?
Roger replied: I was playing better bit by bit. I won my first Masters Series in Hamburg in 2002. That was for me kind of a milestone. I cracked the top 10, started to give myself more chances also in Grand Slam tournaments, started to make the third, fourth, quarterfinals on a regular basis. All I really needed was a breakthrough kind of making the semis at a Slam. I made that at Wimbledon first up. I mean, I ended up winning the tournament and never looked back.
I guess that loss at the French Open against Horna really put me down. I was really disappointed. The important was the reaction from then on. Yeah, it was so important to come to Wimbledonwith a good mindset again, and I was able to shake it off in a couple of weeks' time, which was important.
Suzi followed up: Did you ever get impatient or concerned about your progress in Grand Slams?
He said, It's tough. I mean, I have to say, the media puts a lot of pressure on you as a youngster, as a player. So I can imagine what the other youngsters are going through, the ones that haven't won slams yet. Start to, you know, question you. Shouldn't you be making that breakthrough soon and everything? You start doubting yourself as well. It's hard and tough.
But, look, that's just the way it is. When you're young, everybody's interested especially in the tennis game the interest is so much on the youngsters. Yeah, I'm happy I'm not there any more.
A reporter I don't know asked: Did you watch any of the Murray/Nadal match last night? If so, what were your impressions?
Roger answered: Yes, I saw from the second set on till the end. Yeah, I thought it was a very interesting match. I think Andy did well. I don't know what happened with his rib or whatever. Looked like he was totally in control and all of a sudden he just gave it away, then came back.
It was a very awkward match. It was very interesting, I thought. I mean, Raf is incredibly tough. I like to watch him just battle it out. I love seeing that. I mean, he was so strong in the end. He deserved to win. But Murray was really close. It was great to see a five-setter.
This was classic Roger. Many players are loath to give their rivals any credit whatsoever. They may have been sitting glued to the television, scratching their privates and texting friends back home, but they invariably and offhandedly say something like this: Yeah, I saw a few games. But I had my own things to take care of. I don't really worry about what the other players are doing. TMF is above all that. In this interview, he spoke highly of both Andys as well as Jet Boy - three players who loom as legitimate challengers to his ranking.
Matt Cronin went back to the well: When you're 12-1 against a guy, like you are with Roddick, is he a real rival to you? Do you consider him to be a real rival?
Roger, as well all know, did not just fall off the turnip truck. In his shoes, Roddick might have answered: Nice try. Next question. Instead, Roger took his time and said: Well, I mean, "rival", absolutely. I think we've played on so many big occasions against each other, look, I mean, if I wouldn't have been there, maybe look at the success he would have had, in Wimbledon especially, maybe at the US Open as well.
Uhm, yeah, I mean, we've had some really close matches. We're about the same age. You know, he's been No. 1. I mean, I don't think the record really plays much a role. Now that we've played over 10 times, I think it gets always very interesting. I think the record is good for me, but I think it's still a great match with Andy.
The presser was winding down. Mikey Seabra started to ask a question, but someone rode roughshod over him. He had to wait a little longer. I braced for what was coming, and when Mikey got an opening he asked: You're the one out there that plays with the smallest racquet on court. Did you try a bigger size? You're playing with a 90. Did you try a 95 and you didn't like?
Aw, dude, I thought – you bailed!
Roger answered: No, I've always been very happy. I switched from 85 to 90 back in 2002 just before I won Hamburg, really. That was for me a big move because I was really shanking a lot of balls. . .
Mikey: With the 95?
Roger: With the 85. Then I changed to a 90. I asked Wilson to make something special for me. Yeah, I mean, it's a great racquet for me. Funny, I wanted to play with the racquet of Sampras, now Sampras is playing with the racquet of me. Kind of weird (smiling). Look, he changed to mine now as well. I mean, really helped me a lot. I never really tried a bigger head size racquets. I don't think it would maybe help me much.
Mikey. It's still the smallest on tour.
Roger: Still the smallest, yes. But the best one (smiling).
Mikey: The string combination, you have a special string combination, monfilament and gut, (mono on the vertical, gut on the horizontal strings). Usually players have the strings the other way around.
Roger: For me, that worked. I've seen other players playing the way I do, but mostly play the different way. I've done that also in 2002 already. I was actually one of the first to make that switch, breaking so many strings. It's given me much more control. I'm happy that it's been working.
I think the strings have really also changed the game a little bit because everybody tried to slow down the conditions, so the players had to react in terms of getting control back. It was not so much the power that made it - how do you say - the effect of winning or losing was more actually not missing. That's what we have today, that kind of problem, no one is going for enough any more.
It would have been nice to bring this issue together with the court-speed topic, but you can always tell when time is winding down in a presser. In typical fashion – that is quiet, classy fashion – Roger gave us quite a bit of red meat. And Mikey: you owe me one!