Federer: You Realise The Eyes Are On You
The Swiss opens play on Centre Court Monday against Lajovic
Roger Federer has redefined what is possible at Wimbledon, lifting the trophy a record eight times out of 11 finals. But before he steps onto historic Centre Court on Monday for his 20th appearance in the tournament, the 36-year-old made a surprising admission: even he gets nervous.
“It remains a little bit nerve-wracking in all honesty. It's a big deal,” Federer said of playing the first match of the fortnight on Centre Court as the defending champion. “Besides the history and the mythical place that it is, you cannot also practise on it. When you come out, there's a bit of uncertainty for both players, from a very quiet week and site that we've seen this week, it's just packed everywhere. The entire atmosphere changes at Wimbledon, and you realise the eyes are on you. That naturally makes you a bit nervous.”
Federer has spent a record 310 weeks atop the ATP Rankings and won 98 tour-level titles. So attention is nothing new for the Swiss. But the top seed says that starting a Wimbledon campaign is a unique experience.
“It's not the second day or something, or a Wednesday sometimes like it used to be at the US Open when you started the tournament. You're basically the first one on the show court,” Federer said. “It's always a lot to ask for from the players, but I love it. It's a massive honor. You try to do your best. I'm looking forward to it. It's exciting.”
And, nervous or not, Federer will not be the only player with butterflies. He is playing Serbian Dusan Lajovic, whom he beat on the same Centre Court in the second round at Wimbledon a year ago. Federer says an opening-round match on the legendary grass holds even more pressure.
“I think experience helps me that I've played a lot of matches, a lot of big matches. It feels like walking out for a finals, it really does,” Federer said. “It's maybe more nerve-wracking because you're not acclimatised to the court yet. I think that might help me, the big-time match play that I've had over the course of my career.
“I remember I've had matches where nerves really never went down, I played nervous the entire match. I think the beginning of the match will be quite crucial to settle the nerves for my opponent and myself as well.”
The good news for Federer is that he holds a 66-6 record in the first round at Grand Slams, including a 16-3 mark at Wimbledon. With that being said, it is just the Swiss’ third tournament since 24 March in Miami, as Federer opted not to play on clay to recharge ahead of the grass-court season.
“I'm feeling good. I was tired at the beginning of the week because of the nine matches I played in 12 days in Stuttgart and Halle,” Federer admitted. “[But] I think the three months did me, again, a world of good, that I didn't play during the clay-court season. We had a great time, vacation, family time, practice, fitness, tennis. Everything worked very well.”
Federer immediately showed good form despite the layoff, winning eight of his nine grass-court matches ahead of the surface’s Grand Slam, claiming a title (Stuttgart) on grass ahead of Wimbledon for the 10th time. Now, he is completely focused on his first-round match, as he begins his pursuit of a ninth victory at the All England Club.
“I think tomorrow is a very important match for me,” Federer said. “I'm happy that in practice everything is going well. I'm hitting the ball well. I'm hopeful for tomorrow. I'm confident.”
And regardless of the performance he puts forth, remember this: Federer will be nervous, too.