March 8, 2021
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We are very glad to welcome Roger back to the ATP Tour. He will make his eighth appearance at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha, his first here since 2012.
Roger, you're a three-time champion in Doha. How excited are you to make your return to competition here in Qatar?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, look, I'm very happy to be back playing a tournament again. It's been a long time. I never thought it was going to take this long.
I came here to Qatar I believe in 2003, at the end of 'O2 actually in the '03 year. I played it for the very first time. Always enjoyed playing here. We did some amazing activities over the years if I look back at all the pictures we have done.
Yeah, it's exciting to go back and seeing all the players again and Karim Alami, the tournament director, as well, who I played in the Sydney Olympics. We go way back together. Yeah, looking forward to the start here either on Tuesday or Wednesday.
THE MODERATOR: Questions in English only.
Q. Obviously the circumstances around the sport have changed rather dramatically during the pandemic, and as somebody who has received a great deal of warmth from the crowd over the years, how do you expect you will adapt to these new circumstances?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, good question. I mean, I'm really looking forward to see how it's going to play out for me also.
I mean, I always thought and I had enough time watching matches with no fans how it must feel for the players, and I'm trying to put myself into their shoes and see what would they be feeling.
My opinion is that early rounds, I don't think it makes a huge difference, to be honest, you know, because when we practice, usually it's either a light crowd or no crowd. Especially when I'm training in Switzerland, you know, I always try to have a lot of privacy as well, so we're used to that. We have a lot of matches and practice matches likes this.
But when it comes to the crunch and you make it maybe further down the tournament, quarters, semis, and finals especially, and you're playing top 10 guys hopefully and playing for titles and a lot of points, this is when I feel like it would get very strange, you know. You're playing for so much but in front of nobody.
So that's why I felt a little bit bad obviously for fans and players alike, watching, you know, those tournaments being played out at the later stages of the tournament.
Me personally, at this point I'm just happy I'm playing again. You know, in a way I'm excited to experience how it will feel, even though I hope it's going to go by rather quickly, because I don't want this to stay like this. Nobody wants it to be this way.
I'm hearing we are maybe going to have 2,000 people here on center court in Doha, so I think that's at least going to feel almost like normal circumstances, because 2,000 people can make a lot of noise. Anything other than zero I think is good, because zero, when you can hear a pin drop, just not that fun, you know.
Even if it's just 100 people, like playing music in a little bar with 100 people, can make a great atmosphere as well. You have some passionate people out there.
Q. Have you thought about how you want to build your season, what you want to achieve this season? If so, what are the kind of landmarks in the season that are the most important to you? Are you looking at the grass and the Olympics?
ROGER FEDERER: Yes, I mean, like obviously at this moment, you know, I feel like it's just about let's see how matches go. Let's see how trainings go with all the top guys, you know, and professional players, not just sparring partners.
I was playing a lot of two-on-ones the last months and so forth. I know I need to go back to training after here again.
So from this standpoint, it's still building up to being stronger, better, fitter, faster and all that stuff. I hope then by Wimbledon I'm going to be 100%. From then on, then the season really starts for me.
Everything until then, it's just let's see how it goes. I might surprise myself, which I actually have already done in practice the last three weeks. I was surprised how well it actually did go.
But like we know, matches are a different animal, so right now I just take it day by day, happy I'm back on the tour again, and see how things go. Of course like for me, everything starts hopefully with the grass, yeah.
Q. Do you get fascinated or amused with the fact that people want to retire you? With that in mind, does this extended period that you have been off, this 12 months, do you think something like that could actually extend your career because it could keep you fresh for a bit longer?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, look, it's a good question. I haven't heard that much, like, people saying I should retire by now. I haven't read a lot in the media about me. I tried to stay also out of the media as much as I possibly could, I guess. It's been more the focus on the other players, the great things they have done and so forth.
Obviously it naturally extends your playing career if you're injured and you can't play, you know, and you still want to play. As long as you haven't officially retired you're still going.
But I do believe what you miss through injuries you can add it to the back end of your career, and I do feel like for somebody like myself who has played over almost 1500 matches, you know, breaks are always welcomed and we take them with happiness sometimes, even though it's tough, you know, to be hurt and being home, but I did enjoy my time at home. After 20 years on tour, to be home for extended period of time, to have used that period in a different way, it has been actually quite nice.
But I have missed the tour. I missed the second family, like how I call the tennis tour. And now we'll see. You know, I think the knee is going to dictate how the comeback will be, how the results will be, how long I can still keep doing this.
And then of course there are other factors on the outside in private life and just everyday life that's going to dictate how long I can keep doing this.
Look, I know it's more on the rare side for almost a 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 the team that I wanted to take the time, no rush to get back onto the tour.
Important is that I'm injury-free, pain-free, and I can actually enjoy myself out there on tour. We'll see how it goes now. I'm curious myself now to find out.
Q. There is obviously a lot of interest about this kind of intergalactic battle between yourself and Rafa and Novak about the Grand Slams and whatever. That's moved on a bit, obviously, since we last saw you play. I'm just wondering, what is your attitude towards that whole race? Is it still something that motivates you, or are you kind of philosophical about it now? Or is it something you're hugely bothered about or what?
ROGER FEDERER: No, I mean, not really. I think it's a great debate, you know, to have, and it's an interesting one. I think what Novak and Rafa have done as of late again is extraordinary. They are not 25 either, you know, themselves. They are able to back it up. Novak again did it in Australia. Rafa again did it at the French and they being, they seem at their peak, which is great for tennis, you know, and it's great for the debate.
My concern is more, you know, 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 very moment, because for me it was very important late, the closer I was getting to Pete's record, you know, is to equal Pete's record and to potentially break it.
But then once you have it, you try to do your best and that's what I tried to do. But for them, I'm maybe the measuring stick like Pete was for me. So I'm 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, and I hope they keep on going, I hope they can do everything they possibly want and that they look back with no regrets.
I think at the end of the day the three of us, we all think alike in this regard. You want to leave the game with no regrets. I think from that standpoint I think we all sleep very well at night.
Q. I'm wondering, what do you think is the hardest thing for you to get back in a situation like this? Is it timing? Is it the intensity of match play, getting used to the competition? What's the last thing that comes back that makes you think, okay, now I'm ready? I've got my fitness back and I've got my form?
ROGER FEDERER: I don't know. For me, tennis is like riding a bike, you know. I know how to do that. So that doesn't really worry me.
I have always also been a guy who can play very little but then play very well. That's maybe also where my longevity has been good.
I think if I'm concerned about anything, it's about the knee, you know, having had double knee surgery. It's a challenge. You know, I have never had to experience that before. The second knee surgery starting from there again, you know, I started from scratch. So it was right from the bottom up I had to work my way back to a tournament like here right now.
I think, as this is the beginning stages, it will be interesting the next three months and five months, really, just to see playing more, traveling more. Like when I came back in '17, you know, how is the knee going to react when you fly trans-Atlantic, going from time zone to time zone? How is it backing up best-of-five-set matches? How is it playing four days straight, you know, three brutal sets against top players?
All these unanswered questions, I need to give myself those answers, you know. But that's the only really concern I have is just is the knee going to hold up? As of now, I'm not sure. I did everything I possibly could. So clearly I'm confident, otherwise I wouldn't put myself in this position this week here in Doha.
But a lot to look forward to and some uncertainty, which is normal, once you have been out for so long like I have been right now.
Q. Welcome back to Doha. Has anything changed significantly in the city preparing for the World Cup in two years' time? Do you see anything different? Has anything impressed you about Doha? Do you think at the end of the tournament you will see yourself lifting the trophy? Or you're not looking at that at the moment?
ROGER FEDERER: Oh, no, no, no. I mean, yes, in a vision I see myself with the trophy because I have seen the pictures around here three times me holding up the trophy, and it feels good seeing those pictures again and you get inspiration from it, and obviously I'm a winner, I'm a player, and, you know, you want to be there.
But honestly, if I can complete a match, several matches, what I know is once, however this tournament will play out, I will be happy leaving the court because I know I played a tournament again.
Expectations are really low, but I hope I can surprise myself and maybe others. I know that people will think that, you know, the measuring stick will only be titles and trophies and finals and semis, and I'm happy people think of me that way, but honestly, the expectations are in a completely different place for me.
Yes, like you said, Doha has changed tremendously. You know, ever since I came here in 2003 and I have seen it evolve and grow and the buildings have risen, and the corniche is getting longer and bigger and more impressive, it's special.
I would like to go see some museums, but not for this time. We are stuck in a bubble here in hotel and club life. Also going to be interesting for me to experience that for the next months to come.
Q. Because we haven't seen you since the Australian Open in 2020, can I just clarify, was there a moment or any situation with you and your family, inner circle, where perhaps you did think about retirement, where you had a conversation about the future and the rehab wasn't perhaps going well? Did you ever get to that point? Or was your mentality always that I will return to the tennis court?
ROGER FEDERER: I mean, I think it's normal that through the period of one year you will always have some conversations with your team and your family about where do we go from here? You know, not imminent, you know.
When I took the decision to take the first operation, I don't remember the date now, but early in the year after the Match for Africa from Cape Town, the goal was to be ready for Wimbledon, right? That's why I then all of a sudden said, Okay, let's do it very quickly here so I have the time to get ready.
I didn't expect complications to come about, and they came about just like that, honestly. The knee was just swelling up. It was not doing well. I would go for walks with the kids or go for a bike ride, come back, have a swollen knee, and I wouldn't understand what was happening, because in training it was actually going very well the first four or five weeks and progress was quick.
So I think after the second one, I mean, obviously I was down. I couldn't believe I had to do a second one. This is then definitely a moment where you question maybe everything a little bit more. Because now you know, well, Wimbledon is not happening. Then Wimbledon anyway was canceled. And then the pandemic at this point hit bad, and you don't know what that means and how long that's going to be around.
But what I knew is, regardless, if I do come back or not, and the urge was there to come back and I wanted to, you know, go out on my terms and not finish on the Australian Open and the Match for Africa, for my life, I wanted to do this rehab anyhow.
So regardless of any tournament, I want to be healthy. I want to go skiing with my children and my friends and go play basketball and football and do all these things.
I feel if I can do all these things, and I want to do all these things down the road, I also maybe can play professional sports. I feel like there is still something left. For me it was always clear that I was going to try to do that.
So retirement was never really on the cards. I think it's really a conversation more if the knee, let's say, keeps bothering me for months and months to come, then we have to look at it. That's normal, because when you realize you cannot play at the top level anymore, the knee doesn't allow you to do that, then you have to have that conversation.
But this is not the time to think about that. That's, let's just say, in the fall of this year, because then I would have played enough matches and enough tournaments to really analyze that.
But for now I'm just really happy that I have made the long-and-hard road with my physios, with my doctors, with my coaches, fitness trainers, because in a way I have enjoyed it. You know, I don't mind doing rehab. For them, they are impressed by me how I go about it, the work ethic. But for me it's only about normal, because I want to be a healthy person.
It's been a good phase. You know, actually, it was a challenge. You know, I like challenges. So it's all good and now we are all looking forward to what's to come.
Q. I was just wondering, are you pain-free with your knee? And also, the nerves of coming back, are there doubts, questions? Do you ask yourself, do you wake up with those kind of things each day?
ROGER FEDERER: I am. There is question marks all over. It's normal. I don't know how to explain, when you come back from injury, you know, I don't want to say that's the biggest challenge, but the biggest challenge is to trust yourself 100% again in your capabilities of your body. You know, can you stop on a dime, can you sprint whenever you want because you don't have time to think.
The body and the point and the opponent doesn't allow you that luxury, you know. The opponent feels it if you're not 100%. We don't have substitute players that are ready to come in if you're not feeling 100%. A tennis player will check you if he feels like you're having a problem.
You want to be really sure that you can actually play at the highest of levels. I feel like I can play at a good level right now. Is it the best one? No chance, because I haven't played any matches so far yet. There is still a lot of doubts flying about.
You know, in the morning when I wake up I feel actually pretty good. You know, I don't feel like a broken man. That's something really positive. The pain is completely under control. I feel like it's actually good, you know, compared to where I was four or five months ago.
I'm in such a wonderful position now that I can actually play, you know, I don't know, five days straight, two-and-a-half hours. That's something I didn't expect me doing this time of the year.
So there is a lot of positives and important to look at the positives but also still understand what's not going so well yet.
So it's really hard to answer the question, but I'm trying to give you as much info as I can, because quite honestly I don't know myself yet.
Matches, again, different story. When the nerves creep in, you want to save that breakpoint and you have to go all out and you want to be able to go all out, otherwise you have to ask the question, Why am I even out here? But I feel I can go all out in my first match on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Q. Would you say that your principal motivation returning to the tour was because you were desperate to go out on your own terms? Was a part of it also putting yourself through that arduous rehabilitation, the belief and the desire to continue to be able to win major titles?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I don't know. I just feel like the story's not over yet. I don't know how to explain it. It's not like for one particular reason why I wanted to keep on playing tennis other than I enjoy playing tennis. I enjoy being on the road.
That all will be checked and tested now this year with bubble life, quarantines all around, the whole mask situations, the travel is difficult, the rehabbing and all that stuff is not complete yet. So I'm still a work in progress.
But probably one of the other reasons is to come back that I would like to get that high again of playing against the best players, playing in the biggest tournaments, winning them hopefully, and being in the conversation, you know. Hopefully I will play long enough to see full crowds again. That would be a nice thing, as well. We all hope for that.
For me, it was just like the knee is not good anymore, I'm not happy with it, and it needs to be fixed. And that's it. It's fairly simple actually at the end of the day.
Q. I'm curious, after such a long break, how much are you concerned about the mental side of the things, approaching a tournament after so many times? And if there is a chance to see you eating pasta in Rome in May?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah (smiling). Like I said before, I think I've got to go get through Doha first, then see about Dubai, then I go back into training for over a month, and then we will see about the clay court season.
You know, but obviously I will have many, many more informations after here. We're talking daily to the team. So far everything, you know, there is green lights all around. Everything is positive. We are happy to be here.
The year has been long, but also things go by very quickly when you have four children and, you know, I always have lots to do so life is busy in a good way. You know, I have time for a lot of other things.
So I'm just enjoying myself. Like I explained before, still a lot of open questions that need answers. Yeah, let's see how it goes.
I have not made up my mind yet about how the clay court season could look like. I really don't know yet.
Q. I'm wondering when you were watching from afar, how much were you keeping tabs on things? What were some of the standout storylines for you, whether on the court or off it?
ROGER FEDERER: You're talking about since the tour started again in July/August, yeah? And how much I have been following? Was that also part of the question?
Q. Yeah, how much were you following and what were some of the standout storylines for you when the tour restarted?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, I mean, I think being involved in the council and all and seeing how hard it was to start the tour up again, seeing the other main sports, you know, all beyond football, Formula 1, I mean, just seeing the tour come back on was exciting, you know.
That was big, you know, because I think switching off the engine is easy. We can just turn the key and it's done. But turning it on I think was a huge effort from the tournament directors. I still admire them for putting on events without fans.
I know they get relief through, you know, paying less prize money and other relief the ATP is giving them and also the players are going through a really hard time on the tour.
I know, look, we are having it good, not complaining, but seeing that from afar, seeing hard lockdown and isolations in Australia and other places, challengers, ATP events, that's what for me what stands out the most, just how hard it's been for everybody around the world, this pandemic. It being front and center in the media, day in, day out. There is not a day that goes by where you don't talk or think about it.
So under those circumstances that the tour came back I think is great. You know, it gives me, as a tennis fan, a chance to watch tennis again and I'm sure millions also to watch it.
Then I think the US Open in some ways was a big thing for me. Just seeing that being played out the way it played out with Dominic winning his first Grand Slam title under unreal circumstances with Zverev, you know, who both deserved their first slam and it was heartbreak in front of no fans. That to me in a way broke my heart for everybody there, but really happy for Dominic because he's really put himself front and center as the No. 1 Grand Slam contender.
Then just, you know, Rafa's reign at the French continues. You know, Medvedev's run was fantastic at the end of the season. Rublev has been doing wonderful. Novak is keeping it up. Australia, you know, was impressive what he did and brought it home again.
That to me is a little bit of what I saw. I watched quite a lot, actually, as much as I possibly could. I mean, I'm not just spending hours and hours in front of the TV watching all the matches, but a lot of highlights and making sure I stay up to speed.
Funny enough, I believe I did the same in '16 and then just I want to know what's going on, you know. I go check scores every single day, every other hour to know what's going on in challengers and futures and tour events, levels, just wanting to know what's up, you know, even in the doubles.
So I enjoy the sport, and I cannot look the other way. If I try to look the other way, I know it's fake. That's not me (smiling), even though sometimes, you know, if I look the other way it's because I'm busy.
In all honestly, I followed it very closely, and I was impressed how high actually the level of play was even with no fans or very little fans. It was great to see.
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