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Federer remains the man to beat

It was an emotional season for the world number one - here finally winning the French Open

It was an emotional season for the world number one - here finally winning the French Open

(Keystone)

It was yet another rollercoaster year for Roger Federer – and his fans. A leading tennis commentator tells swissinfo.ch to expect more of the same in 2010.

René Stauffer, a journalist with Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger newspaper and author of “Quest for perfection: The Roger Federer Story”, believes that while one should never bet against Federer, 2010 could be his last shot at the Grand Slam.

Federer himself admits he’s had an emotional season. On court he finally won the French Open – sealing the career Grand Slam – and his sixth Wimbledon, surpassing Pete Sampras’s record of 14 grand slam titles. He also regained the number one spot from Spain’s Rafael Nadal. Off court, he married long time girlfriend Mirka and had twin girls.

But he also lost a few matches that would surely annoy him, including the Australian and US Open finals both in five sets (to Nadal and Juan Martín del Potro respectively) and the Basel Swiss Indoors (to Novak Djokovic).

swissinfo.ch: How do you think Federer feels as he looks back on 2009?

René Stauffer: Honestly, I think the two wins in Paris and Wimbledon overshadowed everything else and that together with his private situation [his year] was kind of over when he won the sixth Wimbledon title and 15th grand slam title. Basically he could have stopped the season there.

He never liked losing and when I talked to him about the US Open final I felt it still bothered him. But he also sees that he won a lot of matches earlier in the season that he could have lost – Paris was by far his most difficult grand slam title.

So he’s realistic and knows you can’t win them all. The way he sees it it’s better to be satisfied with the positives and not to focus on the defeats.

swissinfo.ch: Winning in Paris and beating Sampras’s record must have taken a lot of pressure off him. Is that an advantage or disadvantage? He might be less motivated…

R.S.: This is a very important question and everyone’s asking it! I think only time will tell. He has said that he doesn’t feel one bit of difference – his hunger and motivation is still there as before.

But when you look at the results, it’s not typical for him to lose a grand slam final against a grand slam newcomer like Del Potro. [Federer] was so close to winning, and it was a strange match when you saw the way that Del Potro gave away the second set. He was so close to winning that maybe he thought he already had him.

But you’ll first have to wait and see how Melbourne works out – that’s a pretty important tournament now.

swissinfo.ch: It’s also been an emotional year for him. What effect did this have on his game?

R.S.: My guess is that the last tournaments of the season – this little indoor season – weren’t too important for him [after the Davis Cup in September he withdrew from the Japan Open and Shanghai Masters and played in Basel, Paris and London]. I know that even before Basel he was already practising a bit with a view to 2010. He didn’t focus too much on the autumn indoor season because his main goal was to secure the number one spot, and when he did it, when he won his first two matches in London, what happened then? He lost his next two matches.

You could say it’s a coincidence, but my feeling when I saw him playing in Basel, Paris and London was that he wasn’t in his usual shape and he was obviously focusing on the grand slams.

swissinfo.ch: A year ago a lot of people were saying it was all over for Federer, but he reached all four grand slam finals and won two of them. Were you surprised by his performance in 2009?

R.S.: I was always backing him. I was looking at his results in the big tournaments – people tend to put too much value on the small tournaments. Federer’s at a stage in his career where the grand slams are what counts for him, and if you look at his results in the slams it’s astonishing. [Federer’s been in 17 of the past 18 grand slam finals and won 11 of them.]

Even in 2008 people said he was in a slump and he was in three of the four finals and won one of them, so how could I not have been confident that he would come back after getting over his back problems and mononucleosis?

swissinfo.ch: Who will be his main challengers in 2010? Nadal is still number two but Federer seems to have problems with Del Potro…

R.S.: Yes, but I would still go with Nadal, because Nadal has proven himself – he’s been the top guy besides Federer for many years now. He’s currently in a little bit of a slump but that’s not unusual to see him struggle a bit at the end of the season. Back outdoors on the hard courts he’s the defending champion in Melbourne, so I would say that Nadal will remain Federer’s biggest rival.

Del Potro is certainly a big, strong guy and could win many more slams, but it’s always easier to win the first one than prove that you’re not a one-slam wonder. And if you look at what Del Potro did after the US Open, it wasn’t that great.

swissinfo.ch: So Federer is still motivated and can reach a few more grand slam finals – and maybe even win a couple?

R.S.: I really hope so, and I really wouldn’t bet against it. Two sets were missing for the Grand Slam this year, and in the back of his mind he might even be thinking that this [year] could be one of the last chances to win all four in one season. He wouldn’t want to talk about it, but I’m sure that when the grand slam season starts again, you’ll see another Federer. Best of five is always his strength – he doesn’t lose as easily as best of three. He has more chances to put everything he has into it, so I would be pretty confident that next year he could win one or two slams.

Thomas Stephens, swissinfo.ch

In brief

Federer played 15 tournaments in 2009, winning Madrid, Paris and Wimbledon in a row and then later Cincinnati.

His year’s balance was: played 61 matches, ending in London with his 11th and 12th losses.

Novak Djokovic beat him three times and Federer lost for the first time to compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Del Potro, Julien Benneteau and – on his 13th attempt – Nikolay Davydenko.

The Australian Open starts on January 18.

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