No Snow, All Fun For Federer On Clay Ahead Of Madrid
Roger Federer is returning to clay-court action for the first time since 2016 Rome this week at the Mutua Madrid Open. The 37-year-old Swiss is happier on the red dirt compared to the last time he competed on the surface, but not for the reason you might think: it hasn’t been snowing in the build-up.
“It's been good. It's been fun. I was lucky, we had good weather when I started. So that helped because I remember years ago — three or four years ago — when I was practising it was snowing, like this weekend in Switzerland, and that didn't inspire me very much to go practise on clay, or go into an indoor bubble and stuff,” Federer said. “This year was easy. I enjoyed myself a lot.”
Federer has shown good form this season, winning 18 of his 20 matches, including his 100th and 101st titles in Dubai and Miami, respectively. His 75.9 winning percentage on clay throughout his career ranks third among active players. But the three-time Madrid champion is not putting too much pressure on himself to perform.
“I have not high expectations in some ways, but at the same time I also know that things are possible,” said Federer, who will face Richard Gasquet or Estoril semi-finalist Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his first match. “Madrid always plays fast with the altitude here, so intrigued to find out myself. But it's been good so far.”
Federer officially announced that he would return to clay this year at the Australian Open, and he has not regretted that decision since. He hasn’t evaluated his training or overthought being back on clay — Federer is just living in the moment.
“I'm happy also that the decision I took last, I guess around December, when I started feeling like I definitely want to do the clay, that it was the right decision,” Federer said. “I haven't looked back at the clay-court build-up yet, or everything that I have been doing, like maybe I shouldn't have. I'm happy I'm here and I'm happy I'm on the surface.”
Switching surfaces is never the easiest task, especially when playing on one for the first time in three years. But Federer hasn’t run into too much difficulty adjusting.
“It takes some time getting used to how to construct the points maybe a little bit more. Because there is more baseline [play], there is a possibility to play with more angles and height, I guess, off a hard ball you can roll it and spin it and go loopy, whereas on a faster court you almost have to hit against it. It is hard to take pace off the ball,” Federer said. “So from that standpoint, it's been interesting and fun. But not so challenging, to be honest.
“Then again, matches might be a completely different story because in the practice it is always okay to take chances and not get rewarded, you walk away from any and you're like, ‘Who cares?’. In the match, every point matters, so it will be interesting to see how as the tournament goes.”
Besides Federer returning to clay, one of the bigger news items in Madrid is that former World No. 3 David Ferrer is playing his final tournament here, where Federer has beaten him twice.
“I'm a big admirer of his work ethic and personality. Of course, also his success,” Federer said. “But the person comes first and he's — the guy has been so solid for the past 20 years. He's always been the same guy and I have always appreciated that.”
Federer may lead Ferrer 17-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, and they would only be able to meet in the final here, but the Swiss does not see their relationship based on results.
“I see a guy. He's at my level and I look to him eye-to-eye, and so I'm happy for him that he was able to take the decision and really he seemed genuinely happy because he is also playing well now at the end of his career and he can go out on his terms and for any top athlete like he is, that is the dream, that you can leave on your terms,” Federer said. “He has all the respect from my side. He doesn't need to prove himself anymore. And I just wish him all the very best for what is to come with his family and his future.”