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Catching Up With Roger Federer

beIN SPORTS conducted an exclusive interview with Tennis legend Roger Federer – presented by Karim Alami.

The interview took place on Monday 8 March 2021 in Doha. To watch the full interview, please visit this link.

Please also find the full transcript of Roger Federer’s interview below.

[Alami] Roger Federer, welcome to beIN SPORTS. We missed you

[Fedrer] Thank you, I missed you too

We haven’t seen you for a while.

Yes, it’s been a while. I am happy to be back to compete in this tournament here in Doha. This is good, and I am very excited.

Tell us a little about this surgery. What did you do this year? Tell us also about the pandemic. You have been away for 13 months. 

I don’t know what to tell you, but it was a long and difficult year. I was away from the sport for a year, recovering from the two surgeries in my knee. But now, I am better and well.  

This is the first week in which you will play. How do you feel, and how is your mental readiness for this week?

It’s going to be a test for my health situation. Anything might happen, and so it’s going to be a thrilling experience.

These are difficult times, as you said. And we are very happy that you are now in Doha, where you won the tournament three times. Everyone is happy and excited about your presence here.

I think it’s important for me to play in this tournament and in the next few weeks and months without any expectations, and just to enjoy my return to the tournament. I will see this as a victory regardless of my results here.

You have seen the draw and the game schedule, and there are many good players. This is a challenge, I believe, particularly after the long suspension, and the games are becoming more and more difficult.

This is something I cannot say, and I usually shouldn’t because I know the expectations are always high, for me personally and for the organizers, the fans, the media, etc. But the return to the tournament in itself is a victory for me because a year of absence from sports is a long time, and I have never experienced anything like this in my life. I remember that I walked on crutches. The fact that I now can run, jump, and serve in the court is a completely different experience. So, I am very happy for coming all that long way. I hope I’ll improve day after day and make a strong comeback. But it’s wonderful to once again see you, the tournament, and all tennis players and employees, who make the fabric of this competition. I missed all that as much as I enjoyed staying home. After 20 years of continuous travel, it was great to spend time in my country and with my family and some of my Swiss friends. It proved to me that my roots are still where I belong. I was happy in my country, but return to the travel life is also fine, although the world is now completely different, with the need to wear a mask because of the pandemic, and the bubble life for us the Tennis players – as we must stay only in the hotel and the club due to the stringent precautionary measures, and we have to comply with the rules and serve as examples to others. They are difficult times, but I am eagerly looking forward to them.

As you said, you don’t expect much. You will participate and play. How is your readiness, and since when you have been preparing for this?

Yes, this was the main question that I was daily asked: how is your knee – just like the question about the pandemic and its latest news. That was honestly my life over the past year or a little more. Any draw here might prove difficult for me because I don’t know what to expect. But at the same time, I surprised myself in the past and might be able to do it again this week.

Are you mentally prepared to continue playing all this time, which might drag on for a week?

I hope so, I can say that I have been training properly for almost three months. I can say that I am back as a tennis player. If you see me play, you will not notice that I had problems with my knee. So, this is positive for me.

Is everything physically fine?

The past month was very good, as I played every day, literally, taking breaks to rest my body and make sure my knee was fine. The most interesting part now is to check the stamina of my knee and body. Can I play 5 games over 5 days? Can I play 3 hours today, rest tomorrow, and play another 3 hours after that? These questions remain open. The same can be said about the 5 group tournaments, but we will not see them, even the French Open or Wimbledon. So, I don’t know what to say to you. I feel I am ready to take off. In case of surgery, there is always a delay in the orders that the brain sends to the knee to run to receive the shot. Usually, the run is automatic. But after surgery, you need to teach the knee that the time to start the run has come. This part of the second that this process takes might be a hindrance in a very important game with fierce competition. For me now, and as I have nothing to lose, I can play with more freedom, and to take risks, and mix playing tactics, which I usually do, and will also do here in Doha. I will go for drop and slice shots, and topspin and flat serves. I believe these serves allow me to play my own way

I am very pleased to hear this and happy for your great enthusiasm and for your return to the tournament. I am sure that this is the feeling of everyone. They are waiting for your return.

Yes, the tournament was supposed to take place last year, but then we had the pandemic and it was postponed until this year. That was good for me.

I know that the Olympics will be held this year. Is this part of your plan?

Yes, participation in the Olympics is part of my plan, although my main goal was everything, from today until Wimbledon, the tournament that precedes the Olympics. I hope that I will be fully in form by then and that questions about my knee will stop when I will be able to tell the media: Don’t ask me about my knee from now on; it’s fine and fully recovered because I have the answers that I need to give. The Olympics is a major goal for me. I lost twice in Athens Olympics in 2004. And in Beijing Olympics in 2008 I won the gold medal for men’s doubles with Stan Wawrinka and the silver medal for Men’s singles in London Olympics 2012. Unfortunately, I missed the Reo Olympics because of a left knee injury. I hope I will return to Tokyo Olympics. It would be great to participate in this competition once again. In 2000, we played against each other’s and I met my girlfriend then and wife now. The Olympics have always been a special competition for me.

I know that you are a great football fan. You know that Qatar will organize FIFA World Cup 2022. 

Yes, the World Cup in Qatar is drawing nearer, and I remember the celebrations that were held here – I don’t know where exactly, but there were massive fireworks when Qatar won the right to organize the tournament. I remember that people could not believe it.

Yes, we are still celebrating, and I believe it will be, let’s say, a great sport event. Do you have any plans, perhaps to come and see some of the games with your family? You are invited of course!

Yes, I never attended a FIFA World Cup, as this competition is usually held between the French Open and Wimbledon, a time when it is impossible for me to go watch some football games. During Germany’s Olympics, I had a chance because of the close distance. But as you know, the Wimbledon tournament is very important for me. So, I decided to stay in my line and attend World Cups after my retirement. Then I will indeed be able to attend full World Cups rather than intermittent attendance of games. But yes, as you said, I am a great football fan, and I hope that the Qatar World Cup will be a great success and that things will return to normal as much as possible. The Tokyo Olympics will be a good opportunity for you to know what will be possible and what will be not. You can also learn the way to handle huge crowds if that will be possible, or the bubble life for athletes, players, technical teams, organizers, etc. If I get the chance to come, it will be great to come to watch and support the Swiss team here and see some of the great teams that will make history here in Qatar.

You came here more than once. You visited Doha even when you did not participate in the tournament. How do you see the difference between then and now in the way the country is developing, and the new infrastructure?

Yes, it’s interesting. Qatar has grown and changed a lot. People have not changed. People remain the most important part of any place. They are the pulse and spirit of the city and the country. I had a chance to meet many good people here in Doha. What’s interesting is that when I came here in 2003, Pearl Island did not exist, and the corniche was still small. High-rise buildings were few or under construction. We stayed at the Sheraton Hotel, which takes the shape of a pyramid. It was great being here at that time in order to remember and realize the extent of the transformation that the city has witnessed, which appears wonderful. I would like to visit some of the stunning museums that you have here in Doha. But unfortunately, this year I am somehow stuck in a club and hotel life.  But I hope I will have a chance to return and visit the desert and perhaps attend the World Cup and meet my friends here, and see the infrastructure as you said – the wonderful stadiums and other installations. And as some buildings are new, I can also see the great architecture, which I love very much.

Roger: You, Nadal, and Novak won many of the Grand Slam tournaments. With regard to the new generation, you see someone winning the tournament and then having a hard time winning another. How hard is it for them to reach this level? 

I believe it is difficult for them because they will always be compared with our generation. You can call us whatever you want, but some refer to us as the golden generation, the three of us, add to them Murray and Wawrinka, because we won many titles, as I said. I believe the problem for the new generation is that Novak, Rafa, and I were unable to play in a different way. One of the other them, for example, might defeat me but fail to defeat Novak, or beat Novak but fail to beat Rafa, or beat Rafa but fail to beat me. This is what happens. Also, the problem is that when one of them wins a major tournament without beating one of us, for some reason he does not receive the praise that he deserves from the media and the fans. I believe this is wrong because it is also mentally difficult for them to continue to think that they can succeed and that if they succeed, they can succeed again. We know how difficult it is after we win a major tournament to repeat this achievement. Rafa, Novak, and I did it many times, me more at Wimbledon, and Novak more in Australia, and Rafa more in the French Open.

You have been participating in international tournaments for more than 20 years. When you raise the bar of the challenge for this new generation, is it mentally difficult for them to reach this high level and to maintain this performance for many years?

I think it’s difficult, but the new generation is doing great. Many of them, like Tsitsipas, Medvedev, Grigor, and others, won the ATP World Tour Finals, so there are increasing opportunities, and I believe that we’ll see more of these.

Naturally, when I, Rafa, or Novak are forced to be away from courts, as happened to us in the past five years, more chances for them will emerge. It’s a matter of time before we see the young make more victories. We saw Dominic win USA Open. Zverev almost won it. Medvedev was a tough opponent, and I feel that Tsitsipas and Rublev are also performing well. I forgot some other players that are also doing well. I believe we will see a major change after three years. But I know that Rafa, Novak, and I will try to stand fast for the longest time possible and will try to increase the number of our titles.

One final question, Roger. The day will certainly come when you retire. I know that you have a foundation and that you are doing great things for children. Can you tell us something about this? What’s your plan after you retire from Tennis? I hope this will not be soon. We want to see you play for more years. But what is your plan? How do you see yourself? What your next project will be? 

Good question. I am trying to check how much energy I still have, and how much success I still can make.  My wife has so far been the greatest source of support for me. She always encourages me to continue. My children were also wonderful and showed understanding, although they were sad that I came here without them because things are a bit complicated at present. But with regard to playing or not playing…I do many things for my foundation. The last game I played was in Cape Town for its sake. We raised more than $3.5 million to improve the quality of education for children in Africa. It was interesting that we had a record number of attendees for a tennis game -52,000 spectators. Now we will have zero spectators, or perhaps 10% or 20% of the capacity. True, fans will be back to the courts, but the positive thing is that this record number will remain protected because we are not allowed to have a large number of spectators in courts.

Roger, you know and love record numbers. 

I know, but it was a special moment for me to play in South Africa, as my mother is from Johannesburg. She was raised there, and I used to go to South Africa for holidays. So, it was a great experience for me there. The foundation will continue with me for life. I hope it will continue with me and that I will be able to spend more time with it in the future, especially since I travel a lot, and I don’t have much time to travel for it, especially at present, given the restrictions on travel. So, I am excited to return to this activity, to visit teachers, children, and care providers. We are trying to leave a massive print on school education systems and means to develop children and provide them with an opportunity to attend school, as many of them do not have this opportunity in southern Africa. We are trying to have a real impact there. We are really looking forward to this. The foundation is now 15 years old, and I still feel that it’s only the beginning. I hope that one day I will be famous for my charity work as much as I am famous as a tennis player. We will see how things will go. But we are still making small steps, learning, developing, and becoming better in our work.

Roger Federer, thank you for being with us. 

My pleasure. Thank you for hosting me.

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