Back To His 'Second Family', Federer Resets Expectations
A lot has changed for the 20-time Grand Slam champion since his most recent match at the 2020 Australian Open, including two right knee surgeries and global pandemic, but the Swiss never wavered in his ambition to return to the court.
“I just feel like the story is not over yet… I would like to get that high of playing against the best players, playing at the biggest tournaments, winning them, hopefully, and being in the conversation,” said Federer.
The former World No. 1 will make his return at an event where he has achieved consistent success. Federer is a three-time champion in Doha with a 26-3 tournament record. Eighteen years after his tournament debut, the Basel native is excited to be back playing at the Khalifa International Tennis & Squash Complex.
“I am very happy to be back playing a tournament again. It has been a long time,” said Federer. “I never thought it was going to take this long. I came here to Qatar in 2003… for the very first time and I always enjoyed playing here… It is exciting to be back, seeing all the players again… I am looking forward to the start.”
Federer is keen to manage his expectations this week. The 103-time tour-level titlist has been surprised by the level he has already shown in practice, but he is keen to avoid putting any results-driven pressure on himself over the coming months.
“At this moment, let’s see how matches go,” said Federer. “Let’s see how training goes with all the top guys… It is still [a matter of] building up to being stronger, better, fitter, faster and all that stuff. I hope by Wimbledon I am going to be 100 per cent and, from then on, the season really starts for me. Everything until then, lets just see how it goes.
“I might surprise myself. I actually already have done in practice the past three weeks. I was surprised with how well it actually did go. But we know matches are a different animal, so right now I just take it day by day. I am happy I am back on the Tour again.”
Since his last appearance, Federer’s Big Three rivalry with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic has significantly evolved. Nadal tied Federer’s record at the top of the Grand Slam titles leaderboard last year at Roland Garros and Djokovic has added two further Australian Open titles to his resume. On Monday, the Serbian will also break Federer’s record for the most weeks spent at the top of the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“What Novak and Rafa have done, as of late, is extraordinary,” said Federer. “They are not 25 either. They are able to back it up. Novak did it again in Australia and Rafa again did it at Roland Garros. They seem [to be] at their peak which is great for tennis and it is great for the debate. My concern is more [on] my own game, my own health over the record, to be honest.
“I think for them, maybe this is bigger than for me at this moment because for me, it was very important the closer I was getting to Pete Samparas’ record… Once you have it, you try to do your best and that is what I tried to do. But for them, maybe I am the measuring stick like Pete was for me.
"I am in a different situation but sure, you like to keep every record. But all the records are there to be broken. The guys are unreal, we all know that. I hope they keep on going. I hope they can do everything they possibly want and that they look back with no regrets… We want to leave the game with no regrets and I think, from that standpoint, we all sleep very well at night.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding Federer’s return will be how he responds to the two right knee surgeries he underwent last year. The 39-year-old has declared himself ‘pain-free’ ahead of his first appearance in Doha since 2012.
“I do think the knee will dictate how the comeback is going to be, how the results will be, how long I can still keep doing this,” said Federer. “I know it is on the rare side for an almost 40-year-old to come back after a year being out and I was surprised how long it took, but I took a decision quite early with my team that I wanted to take the time [with] no rush to get back onto the Tour. It is important that I am injury-free, pain-free and I can actually enjoy myself out there on Tour.”
After more than two decades of competing on the ATP Tour, the 6’1” right-hander spent his time away from the Tour enjoying family life. Federer also believes the break could have helped to prolong his career.
“I do believe what you miss through injuries, you can add to the back end of your career,” said Federer. “I do feel like somebody like myself, who has played almost 1,500 matches, that breaks are always welcome… I did enjoy my time at home. After 20 years on Tour, to be home for an extended period of time, to have used that period in a different way, has been actually quite nice. I have missed the Tour. I have missed the second family, [which is] how I call the Tour.”
Now in the company of his second family in Doha, Federer is philosophical about the week ahead. Simply by stepping on the court for his first match against Jeremy Chardy or Daniel Evans, he will have reached the first milestone of his comeback plan.
“However this tournament will play out, I will be happy leaving the court because I will have played a tournament again," said Federer. "Expectations are really low, but I hope I can surprise myself and maybe others. I know that people will think that the measuring stick will only be titles, trophies, finals and semi-finals and I am happy that people think of me that way but, honestly, the expectations are in a completely different place for me.”